A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Can you make “sense”?

If you had the chance of keeping your five senses (touch, taste, hear, see, smell) which one would it be?  Why?  If you would lose sight, would you not miss the magnificent landscapes, sunsets, sunrises, color of leaves, beautiful natural wonders?  What about losing hearing?  No more favorite music.  And the rest of the list could go on.

For me, it would be vision.  Not only would I not be able to see the beauties of nature, but also reading, visiting museums, and the like.  This would be depressing. This is probably why I feel a special sadness for Bartimaeus the blind in the Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  (Mark 10:46-52)

A brief recount of the Gospel.  Jesus is leaving Jericho, and by the roadside, Bartimaeus the blind is begging.  He hears that it is Jesus passing by.  Having heard some things about Jesus, he cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”  The more others tried to calm him down, the louder was his shout.

Jesus heard him and came and asked what he wanted.  He said, “Master, I want to see.”  Quite likely Jesus looked at him, paused, and said,”Go your way, your faith has saved you.”  Immediately, Bartimaeus’ vision was restored.

Doesn’t it seem strange that there is no touching or praying between Jesus and Bartimaeus as there was in other miracles of healing?  What do you think Jesus was trying to convey?  I suspect that Jesus wanted to point out the importance of faith.  It is Bartimaeus’ faith that was the basis for the miracle.  Why is this so important?

Quite likely, I suspect that faith is the basis for our judgements about people.  For example.  What do I really believe about Jesus?  Do I believe what the Gospels say about Jesus?  What about the Creed that I recite during Sunday Mass?  Do I truly believe what it says about the Holy Trinity?

Also, what do I believe about other people?  Do I believe what the book of Genesis say about all of us (Genesis 1:26-27), namely, that all of humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, no matter ethnic origin, place of birth, color of skin, economic status?  Our faith is telling us that there is equality among us all.

Bartimaeus was healed because he truly believed in Jesus.  Not only did he believe that Jesus could heal him but believed that he would heal him.  This miracle was an act of physical healing.

We can be healed from our spiritual blindness if we believe and do what our faith teaches us about Jesus and our fellow human beings.  Regarding Jesus, do we believe in what our faith tells us by way of the Bible and official church teaching?  Regarding our fellow human beings, do we believe and do what Jesus teaches in the Gospels, namely, treat all others with justice, compassion, understanding, forgiveness.  Is there that feeling of equality in our interaction?

In fact, every time that we see again (spiritual insight) in terms of how we see and treat our fellow human beings, it is a miracle of God’s love.  This is really “making sense” of our spiritual insight.

 

 

 

 

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Quite likely most of us know of a friend, or a relative, who seems to be more concerned about the “reward” rather than the “challenge” to obtain the reward.  Or as the modern phrase would have it, “putting the cart before the horse.”

In the Gospel for the Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:35-45), two disciples, James and John, appear to be of this type.       They are concerned more about the “glory” than about working for it.  They prefer the “resurrection” to the “passion and death.”  It is quite clear that every true disciple of Jesus must accept the reality that there is pain and suffering before any  kind of resurrection.  It happened to Jesus, so it must happen to his disciples.

Looking at the Gospel, we can see James and John telling Jesus (not asking him) that there is something that they want Jesus to do.  Trying to be helpful, Jesus asks them, “What do you want me to do?”  They replied, “In your glory, that one might sit on your right, and the other on your left.”

This was indeed a cheeky statement.  To sit directly on either side of the “master” was considered a great honor.  It would be analogous to have an Army private ask to become a General right away.  It is just not done.  It appeared to Jesus that this came across, perhaps unintentional, that this was a “power grab.”

Jesus was aware of this, so he explained what a true disciple of his must do.  Two things.  First.  Experience a “cross-suffering”  moment before expecting a “resurrection.”  James and John said that they could do this.  Second.  Know the difference between “to serve” and to “be served” and act upon it.  By virtue of their question, James and John were not completely aware of this.

Consequently, Jesus’ response concerning true discipleship embraced both the ideas of accepting pain/sorrow before any kind of “resurrection,” and acting on the obvious difference between “service” and “being served.”  The brothers were willing to do the former because of Jesus’ own experience.  But the issue of “service” needed some explanation.

Incidentally, the first reading for the Sunday (Isaiah 53:10-11) speaks of the Suffering Servant who exemplifies the difference between being a servant and being served.  In fact, Jesus put it quite clearly when he stated in the day’s Gospel, “…Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 10:35)  There are several examples of “serving others” in the Gospels.  One of the most memorable is the Good Samaritan.  (Luke 10:25-37)

What is it that the Gospel is trying to tell us?  Actually, two things.  The first lesson we can learn is to realize that all of us have to experience pain and suffering in our lives before there can be any amelioration.  It becomes easier to endure problems as long as we believe that the situation will improve itself.  Jesus established that experience in his own life.

Secondly, there is the question of service.  The challenge will be to note the difference between serving others, in the sense of the Good Samaritan, and being served by others.  Once we assume the fact that accepting the sequence of suffering before resurrection, and providing service to others, we won’t have to “put the cart before the horse” with regards to the effectiveness of our discipleship.

 

 

 

One of the people I feel most sorry for is the man who is asked to sell his belongings and follow Jesus.  (Mark 10:17-30)  He seems to be a good person, wants to be better, but couldn’t say “no” to his wealth.  Apparently, he had a good intention but a questionable motivation.

What do I mean by that?  Reflection on the Gospel reading might give us an answer.  A man runs up to Jesus, and asks him, “Teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life?”  Simple question demands a simple answer.  Jesus responds, “…Keep the commandments.”  So he recites a few of them to reinforce the idea.

The man responds, ” Teacher, I have kept these for a long time.”  Clearly the man is not satisfied with the minimum, so he wants a greater challenge.  Jesus then gives him one.  It is in the response to this choice where the motivation is tested.

Jesus states, “You are lacking one thing.  Go, sell what you have and give to the poor…then come follow me.”  I strongly suspect that the man gave this some serious thought.  One could almost feel the silence.  Then the man’s motivation was prompted by his reaction.  The Gospel tells us:  “The man went away sad, for he had many possessions.”  He just couldn’t say “no” to his belongings.

The same choice is given to us in the sense that we are asked to share our gifts (and talents) with others.  This is our baptismal responsibility as professed disciples of Jesus.  Regarding talents, remember that no one has been cheated.  St. Paul brings this out clearly.  (I Cor. 12:4-11) All of us can do something that few others can.

The Lord does not expect everyone to be a St. Francis of Assissi giving away all one’s possessions.  But he does expect all of us to account for our gifts and talents.  The major question then becomes one of “motivation.” Why do we give or keep our gifts/talents?

We have to ask ourselves,”What do I do with my money after paying the bills?”  Do I buy some trivial items because I think they might be fun or interesting?  Or do I send some money to a missionary group taking care of very poor people in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, or people in these United States?

So much for the money.  But what about my gifts/talents?  Do I bother to share with others or not?  All of us have something to give. For example, singing, playing an instrument, being a good listener, an excellent reader for Mass readings, and the list could go on. Why I do it or not becomes the motivation.  Keep in mind that Jesus asks the difficult, but not the impossible.

The man in the Gospel was asked to do the difficult and not the impossible. But he was not ready. He had a faulty motivation in that he was too tied to his belongings. Because of our Baptism, we are also asked to do the difficult by sharing with others our gifts and talents.   Our question is constant.  What do I do with my money and/or gifts?Only my “motivation” can answer this, be it a “yes” (share it with others) or a “no” (keep it for myself.)

 

 

The Gospel for the 26th Sunday in ordinary time (Mark 9:38-48) tells us that Jesus discussed a two-fold message with his disciples, namely, working in Jesus’ name and reward and punishment in the after life.

The first part of the message was “working in Jesus’ name.”  To “work in someone’s name” means that the work was done with the implied authority of that person.

The disciple John raises the problem. “Teacher, someone is driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.”  Note the key words in this complaint:  “you” and “us.”

In John’s eyes these words of necessity belong together.  But from Jesus’ point of view, one cancels out the us, because as he says in the Gospel reading, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:40)  So he tells the disciples to leave the man alone.

In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who provides the “authority” and not the institution.  Whoever is not against Jesus is, by supposition, for him.

The second part of Jesus’ message to his disciples is “reward and punishment in the afterlife.”  It was becoming clear to the disciples that being a follower of Jesus could well result in suffering, betrayal and death as was true in the case of Jesus himself.  So, Jesus explained to his disciples that what you do in this life will affect what will happen in the after life.

If you do good things in this life, good things will happen to you in the next life.  For example, “…Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”  (Mark 9:41)

Jesus was serious in the sense of good behavior especially for anyone who would be preaching in his name.  Thus when he spoke of bad things his followers might do, he emphasized the point by speaking in hyperbole.  This means that in order to get a point across one emphasizes it by virtue of exaggeration.  What does this mean?

We often do it ourselves.  For instance, when I tell someone, “I told you a million times not to do that.”  In fact, it may have been only two or three time, but by exaggerating the number there is the likelihood the person will be more easily convinced.

The three body parts that Jesus discusses are: hand, foot, and eye.  If the hand or foot is a cause of sin, cut it off.  If the eye is a cause of sin, pluck it out.  These are hyperbolic ways of dealing with sins.  The hand is often an instrument of sin (e.g. stealing).  The feet are means of transport to get you to commit the sin.  And the eye provides the source of temptation.

What is it that the Gospel reading can tell us?  First of all, because of our Baptism, we are disciples of Jesus and have the responsibility to speak and act in his name.  So our words and actions are very important in order for others to make a judgement about us.

Secondly, our speech and behavior in this life will definitely affect us in the next life.  By speaking hyperbolically, Jesus most likely convinced his listeners that hands, feet, and eyes would  be more effective by being of service to others rather than by giving them bad example.  Being of service to others would probably mean being hyperbolic in our own self judgement.  After all, we claim do things in Jesus’ name.

 

Sometimes there are people who don’t want to hear.  These are folks who have their minds already made up.  What they actually mean by their negativity is,”Don’t bother me with facts.”  Then there are people who can’t hear because they are really deaf.

In the Gospel for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary time, there is a man who is not only truly deaf but also has a speech impediment.  (Mark 7:31-37)  The people who brought him to Jesus for a cure wanted him to touch the sick person with the laying on of hands.

In the time of Jesus it was important that there be actual touching between the sick individual and the healer.  The idea was that there was power that flowed from the healer to the sick person, which  often resulted in the healing.

Jesus responded by placing his fingers in the man’s ears and placing spittle on his tongue.  Then, he looked to heaven and said “Ephphata,” which in Aramaic means “Be opened.”

A miracle was performed….  So, how did Jesus perform this miracle?  By two actions:  TOUCHING and PRAYER.  A significant way in which we can appreciate this Gospel, is to reflect on how Jesus performed this miracle.  By touching and prayer.

Incidentally, there is another way of “touching” besides physical contact.  And that is spiritual contact, namely, dealings with the emotions and the mind.  An example is one of response when you sense the need of another.

When someone is hungry and/or homeless, is your response one of willingness to help or not?  Your response will be based on the thoughts (which later turn to actions) of your sense of compassion.

Prayer does not to be scripted.  Even though we often follow a script when we pray to God, we don’t do so when talking to a friend.  So why not talk to God as a friend?  Often there are needs and other problems that we have, so a simple discussion between “friends” would be much better than a script.  But keep in mind that God’s answer to prayer may be “yes,’; “no,”; or “not yet.”

Jesus performed a miracle by “touching” and “prayer.”   Maybe by “touching” ourselves or others, in the sense of our value system,(peace, justice, compassion, forgiveness, etc.) we can be of help or not.  “Prayer” will validate the request.  We may quite likely be performing a miracle….  Who knows?

 

 

 

Keep it clean

Over the years I’m sure that we have all received some kind of advice.  Sometimes from parents, fiends, the media, or someone else.  I remember some advice given long ago.  “Always wash your hands before eating.”  It was good medical advice because one didn’t always know what one had touched.  But, there were those who let the
hand washing become some kind of fixation.

If memory serves me well, years ago there was a TV series called “Monk.”  It was about a detective who had this hand-washing fixation.  He washed his hands before (and sometimes after) meeting people.  His secretary, standing next to him, was always ready with the box of Handy-Wipes.  Now that was a fixation.

In the Gospel for the Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 7:1-23), some Scribes and Pharisees appear to have a fixation on hand washing.  They ask Jesus why his disciples don’t wash their hands before eating.

Jesus takes this opportunity to distinguish among his listeners the difference between physical and spiritual cleanliness.  It boils down to this quote.  “Nothing that enters one, can defile that person, but the things that come out from within , are what defile.”  (Mark 7: 15-16)   That is to say, the physical (hand washing, cleanliness in general) and spiritual (ten commandments) must be distinguished.

The Gospel can tell us a couple of things.  First, it is a good and healthy idea to wash one’s hands before eating, but not to the extent that Monk, the TV detective, did.  Any kind of fixation is problematic.  What one puts inside goes to the stomach.

Second, It would be wise to follow Jesus’ advice which comes at the end of today’s Gospel.   “…It is what comes out of a person that defiles.  For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, deceit, wickedness, envy, slander, pride.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”  (Mark 7:20-23)   What comes out comes from the heart.

In effect, it is good to wash your hands before eating, but cleanliness should not be an extreme. (Physical)   But it is better not to give in to the vices mentioned above, because thoughts often become actions.  And from our Baptism we all have the responsibility to treat others with dignity.  (Spiritual)

If people really want to know what kind of people we are, they will judge us not by the cleanliness of our hands, but by the “cleanliness” of how we treat others, e.g. with justice, compassion, forgiveness, understanding. The message?  “Keep it clean” when dealing with others.

 

Does bread really nourish?

Have you ever had someone ever tell you, “Who do you think you are?”  This question because the other person may well have thought that your enigmatic explanation made that individual feel ignorant.

In the Gospel for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 6:41-51), Jesus is placed in a similar situation.  His statement is,  “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  And the group of Jews surrounding Jesus becomes quite surprised by this statement and asks for an explanation.

What did Jesus mean by such a comment?  Seems to me that there are two important concepts here:  “bread,” and “from heaven.”  The first deals with nourishment, and the second deals with divine origin.

First, bread as nourishment.  Jesus tells the group that their ancestors ate Manna (bread-like edible food) in the desert.  The Israelites were crossing the desert as they were leaving Egypt for the promised land.

During this exodus  the people expressed hunger and called to God, via Moses, to give them food.  Then this Manna came from the heavens and the people were satisfied. (Cf. Exodus 16 for this narrative)  The people were nourished.  Then Jesus told the crowd that  this gesture occurred only once.  That is to say that these folks who received the Manna eventually died.  Consequently, this nourishment was totally physical.

Second, the concept of “from heaven.”  Manna came from the heavens as noted in the text from Exodus.  God sent the bread to nourish his people.  So, the gesture had a divine origin.

Now, what can we learn from the Gospel?  By reflecting on what Jesus said about himself.  Bread is nourishment.  We can become nourished by  receiving the Eucharist.  This is primarily spiritual nourishment and one can receive it more than once.

The Eucharist reminds us of the Last Supper and the use of bread to give life. Every time that we go to Mass, we become spiritually nourished by receiving the Eucharist.  This constancy of reflection and reception is almost a certainty for eternal life.

When Jesus says that he is “from heaven,” our background understanding brings to mind the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas.  For these seasons keep telling us that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ.  So what we understand when Jesus says that he is “from heaven,” we are in reality understanding his humanity and divinity. Our belief in this is reflected in our behavior toward others.

Nourished by the Eucharist (bread), and belief in the divinity of Jesus (from heaven), gives us pretty much of a guarantee of eternal life as long as we behave ourselves.

 

 

 

Free lunch?

We all have to face it.  Many of us enjoy parties.  Some of the semi-obligatory  occasions are Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and the list could go on.

A major portion of the party enjoyment comes from the fact that someone else is providing the ingredients.  In the Gospel for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 6:1-15), Jesus provided the ingredients for the “party” which was actually a free lunch.  It went something like this.

A large group of people followed Jesus to hear more of his message, but it was well past lunch time.  Jesus noticed this need and responded to it quickly. He saw that they were hungry. First, he told one of his closest disciples to hasten to the nearest store and see what food he could by.

But that disciple noted the size of the crowd was about 5,000 or more and realized that nobody had that kind of money to feed all these people.

Secondly, another of his chosen disciples, as if to belabor the obvious, told Jesus that there was a young lad nearby who had five loaves and two fish.  But he also added, “What are these among so many?”

Then Jesus took over the issue completely.  He took the five loaves and two fish, blessed them and asked his disciples to distribute them.  Surprisingly, not only did the people have enough to eat, but there were about twelve baskets of food left over!  The people realized that a miracle had taken place.

Now, what does the Gospel say to us personally?  First of all, Jesus responded to a need.  He saw the people in need, and responded to that need as best as he could.  We ourselves see others experiencing a need one way or another.  The big question here is “How soon do I respond to that need, if I respond at all?”  Are we aware that other people have needs even though they don’t outwardly manifest it?

Secondly, it is well to keep in mind that Jesus responded to that need with “bread” and “fish.”  Why is that significant?  Because since the beginning of Christianity “bread” and “fish” have been key symbols.

The “bread,” since New Testament times, has often symbolized the Eucharist.  We are reminded of the Last Supper when Jesus took the bread, blessed it and gave it to his apostles.  The word “blessed” comes from the Greek EUCHARISTIA meaning “gratitude,” “thanksgiving.”  (Cf. Matt: 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-23; and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 for similar accounts of the institution of the Eucharist).

The “fish” has long been a symbol of Christian identification.  When early Christians met, they would draw a fish which explained that they were Christians.  The Greek word for fish is Ichthus in which each letter stands for the beginning of a word that means “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

So, we have the bread and the fish signifying the Eucharist and our Christianity via our Baptism.  Every time that we go to Mass we have the opportunity for a “free lunch” with fellow Christians.  The Eucharist will provide us with encouragement  and support to respond to the needs of others.  The miracle will be if we decide to respond positively to those needs of others.

 

 

Seems that the only thing missing was…the proverbial “backpack.”  In the Gospel for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 6:7-13), Jesus is sending his apostles on a long journey.  For that reason, he is telling them what to take and what not to take.  Ultimately, the idea is that they should travel lightly.

What are the apostles supposed to take?  First, a walking stick.  Second, strapped up sandals.  Third, only one tunic.  Why, these three items?

First, some background is necessary. The “journey” in the Bible is meant to be more than just going from here to there.  The journey quite often refers to the “life experience.” You walk and often come upon crossroads.  You choose one over another based on your motives.  The tendency is to experience good things and bad things while on the chosen road.  Then you encounter other crossroads and the above pattern repeats itself.

A classical biblical example is the Exodus.  The Israelites were on a journey leaving servitude in Egypt for freedom in the promised land.  They had to cross the Sinai desert, and during that life experience the people were faced with many challenges. They accepted some and rejected others.  Much of the book of Exodus tells us about that journey. This is what a “life experience” is all about.  Facing challenges and rejecting or accepting them.

Secondly, it seems to me that the three items that the apostles were asked to take were not only practical but valuable as well.  For example, the walking stick not only aided walking but also was a defensive weapon against dangerous animals.  In addition, the strapped up sandals signified that one was always ready to  move ahead–if one had to.  Finally, the single tunic suggested light packing which meant the journey would be easier.

So, what can this Sunday Gospel mean to me?  A positive answer could be found if we look at the three items Jesus asked his followers to take and see them symbolically.  For their journey (our “life experience”) they were to take a walking stick, strapped up sandals, and one tunic.

The walking stick was used as an aid to walking, and as a possible weapon to defend oneself against possible dangers.  Assistance in stability and a defense from harm.  For example, what is it that keeps me stable in my life journey?  My faith?  My use of the Sacraments?  My prayer life?  What defense to I have when others reject Jesus’ message to them?

The strapped up sandal was used as a symbol of readiness to move on when the message of Jesus (as well as the messenger) of peace, justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding  was not accepted. Instead of arguing, it was much better to move on to the next town.  One needs to have an open heart to listen and accept Jesus’ message.  If the messenger does not find an open heart, the messenger must be ready to move on.

The one tunic definitely indicates the notion of packing lightly. If you have ever taken an airplane trip, you would definitely understand the need of packing lightly.  For the follower of Jesus, this necessity of packing lightly means that one must have faith in God to help provide what is needed.  What is emphasized here is the belief that God will help us out, in spite of our fears.

Keep in mind that our life experience is a journey.  We will encounter challenges.  And if we take the items that Jesus  told his disciples to carry (our version of the “walking stick” “laced up sandals” and “one tunic”) then for certain we have chosen what is often called the “high road” because it is, most likely, the better road.

 

 

 

Any parent who has had a child that has been sick or near unto death, undoubtedly feels very miserable.  Anything that will help heal the child will always be welcome.  Even if that means taking risks.

In the Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 5:21-43) such a situation arose for Jairus, a synagogue official.  Jesus was passing by, and Jairus heard many things about Jesus so he took a risk and asked Jesus to come to his house and heal his daughter.

While on the way over to Jairus’ house, Jesus and the group were met by a woman who had been hemorrhaging for some time.  She also had heard about Jesus.  Yet she was somewhat frightened about having direct contact and about having to explain her health situation to those present.

So, she decided to do what she thought best.  Avoid personal contact with Jesus, but somehow make sure that there was some direct connection with him…so she touched his outer garment and was immediately healed.

The common belief in those days was that when there was some kind of “touching,” power was passed from one to another. Since the garment was touching Jesus, the lady thought that touching the garment was sufficient.

I suspect that Jesus wanted to  publicize the occasion, so he asked, “Who touched me?”  The lady became nervous and ultimately admitted that it was she who had done the touching.  Jesus told her publicly, “Your faith has saved you.”  This comment was made, most likely, for those present.

Meanwhile, people came from Jairus’ house to tell him that his daughter had died. There was no need for Jesus to go. But upon Jesus’ insistence the group went on to Jairus’ house.  When the group arrived, Jesus entered the room where the twelve year old girl was in bed, and grabbed her by the hand.  He said in Aramaic “Talitha koum” which means, “Little girl, I say to you arise.” And to demonstrate that the girl was not a phantom, she was given something to eat.

Now, what do we make of all this?  It seems to me that the one dominant theme in this Gospel is the the healing touch of Jesus.  The woman had the illness of a painful menstrual flow, but did not want to “broadcast” the issue to the crowd present around Jesus.  Hence, she “touched” Jesus because of the belief that power comes from a person once there is touching.  By way of the touching, the woman was healed.

Then there is the case of the little girl who died before Jesus could come and heal her.  But Jesus took her by the hand and raised her from the dead.  A death-life experience very mindful of Jesus’ own death and resurrection.  The accounts of Lazarus (John 11:1-27) and the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17) were illustrations of Jesus’ power over the death-life experience.

For us personally, a major lesson stands out.  Ultimately, it is the healing importance of touch.  In the Gospel a woman touched Jesus and was healed.  Another woman (little girt) was touched by Jesus and was brought to life.  We are touched by Jesus when we receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).  We touch others when we are compassionate, understanding, forgiving.  Touching = healing.

We have the example of two women pointing out the importance of the healing power of touch.  For that, I would say they merit a round of applause.  So, let’s hear it for the ladies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is interesting to note that the number 3 quite frequently  turns out to be a number that somehow represents fulfillment.  For instance, many authors tell a story embracing three parts–a beginning (introducing the characters), a middle (containing the plot and its development) and an end (containing the solution of the plot).

The Gospel for the feast of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), appears to give us a clue as to how we can experience a sense of fulfillment once we are aware of the Trinity’s presence in our lives.

I know this sounds a little complicated (maybe it is) , but I think that we can make sense of it by reflecting on three (would you believe it?) key themes in the day’s gospel.  (Matt. 28:16-20)  These themes are: (A)-the mountain; (B)-the commissioning of the disciples, and (C)-the notion of “God with us.”

First of all, the mountain.  In the Bible, the mountain is often portrayed as the meeting place between heaven and earth.  When something special was about to take place, it happened on a mountain.  For instance there is Mt. Sinai where a mutual covenant between God and his people occurred.  It was mutual because both  God and the people committed themselves to each other.  “Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all peoples.”  (Ex. 19:5)

Then, of course, there is the Sermon on the Mount.  “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain….” (Matt. 5:1)  and began to teach.  Jesus’ purpose was very clear.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17)  His fulfillment of the law was to point out that it was as sinful to think about something evil as it was of doing it.  “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.”  (Matt. 28:16)

Secondly, the commissioning of the disciples.  Jesus was able to commission his disciples into continuing his work of justice, compassion, forgiveness, healing, and doing good for others because he had the authority to do so.  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.'” (Matt. 28:18) Thus he was able to say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)

Thirdly, the notion of “God with us.”  In the Old Testament, we have the theme of God with his people.  They could do nothing without the belief that God would be present.  For example, the Ark of the Covenant was God’s presence among them.as was the Jerusalem Temple.  But above all, there was the idea of Immanuel  which in Hebrew means “God with us.”

The belief in Immanuel carried over into the Incarnation where God became human in the person of Jesus Christ.  The season of Advent and Christmas brings this out.

Matthew’s gospel ends with the verse in which Jesus says to his disciples “…And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matt. 28:20)  The promise of Jesus to be with his disciples always continues the theme of Immanuel for today and beyond.

What have we learned from these reflections?  Actually, several things, taking into account the three gospel themes.  First theme: the mountain, being the meeting place between God and his people.  Where/what is my mountain?  How and where do I meet God?  Prayer?  Sacraments? In another person?

Second theme: the commissioning of the disciples.  My commissioning takes place at my Baptism wherein I assume the responsibility to be of service to my neighbor.  Beginning of discipleship.

Third theme: the continued presence of Jesus among us.  Carrying forth the Immanuel spirit means that I don’t have to be alone to face the challenges presented by folks who are hostile to Jesus’ message.

Mountain (encountering God), being commissioned (awareness of Baptism), and carrying on the Immanuel spirit (Jesus forever with us) are three things that can make us effective disciples.  So, every time that I make the sign of the cross with holy water, not only am I reminded of the Trinity involved in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also of my Baptism.  Such a moment suggests fulfillment and as such 3 becomes a lucky number.

People often use items that have brand names.  This is true of soap.  I have often heard people talk about the wonders of “Dove” soap, but to those for whom it is of concern I also mention that we Christians often see the image of “dove” in another way.  That image is that of the Holy Spirit.  The feast of Pentecost reminds us that Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry on his work right before his ascension into heaven.  With the coming of the Spirit the disciples would receive encouragement and support while they continued spreading Jesus’ message on earth.

But just who/what is the Holy Spirit?  Before you start yelling “heretic” hear me out.  I strongly suspect that the Holy Spirit is the power of God.  Here are just a few of the many biblical references that bring this out.

To begin with, there is the first creation account.  We read that the  earth was formless and empty and darkness covered the face of the deep.  “…while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  (Gen. 1:2b)  Then God spoke and creation occurred.  Now, that’s power.

A second example comes from the book of Judges.  Gideon, who is a warrior and a leader, is chosen to become a Judge who is both a warrior and a leader of the people.  “But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon….”  (Jdg. 6:34)  These examples from the Old Testament demonstrate that “wind” and “spirit” refer to the power of God.  What is of import here is that the Hebrew word used for “wind” and “spirit” is RUAH, which basically means “breath,” something that comes forth from the inside of a person.

There are also New Testament examples.  When St. Paul wrote to the Romans, he said, “And God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  (Rom. 8:27)  Here we are told that the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the disciples.  Intercession is a manifestation of the power of God.

A significant example is that all four Gospels speak about the Baptism of Jesus.  (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34)  We can surmise that the Baptism of Jesus was considered a significant event, which is why all four evangelists utilize the same image.  Namely, in Matt., Mk., and Lk.  At the Baptism, a voice from heaven says, “…this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased…”  Then the Spirit appears in the form of a dove.

John’s Gospel differs a little, perhaps because it was the last of the Gospels to be written thus allowing more reflection upon the deeds of Jesus.  The text reads, “And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him’.”  (Jn. 1:32.)

The next verse gives the explanation.  “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'”  (Jn. 1:33)  This last verse tells us that  the baptism with the Holy Spirit provides the recipient with the help and encouragement to proclaim Jesus’ message to the world.

What have we learned from this?  First, that the Holy Spirit is the power of God. The examples from Genesis and the book of Judges have brought this out, showing how “wind” and “spirit” were concretely effective.

Secondly, that Paul in his letter to the Romans says to us that the spirit intercedes for God, which is a manifestation of power. The four Gospels mention the baptism of Jesus in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

In effect, the Holy Spirit is the power of God.  Before his ascension, Jesus commissions his disciples to carry on his work of justice, peace, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy.  When we are baptized, we receive that same commission, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the encouragement and support to fulfill that commission.

Because of our Baptism, we have received a sharing of the power of God in order to fulfill the ministry of Jesus.  So for us Christians, the image of the dove is, in reality, the Holy Spirit and not just a bar of soap.

 

 

 

 

I suspect that many of us are nature lovers since we live in a world that is virtually concrete.  Winters are often cold or rainy or snowy–or all three at virtually the same time.  When spring arrives we see signs of new growth.  Plants begin to blossom and give us thoughts of new life. It must have been great for farmers to have seen this.

When Jesus spoke to the people, a fair percentage of them were farmers.  So in the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (John 15:1-8) many of his listeners knew what he meant when he spoke to them of the vine and the branches.

He begins by saying that he is the “true vine” and his Father is the “vine grower.”  The branches that are connected to him flourish, and those that bear no fruit are clipped off.  It seems that the key point in the Gospel is Jesus’ invitation to “abide in me.”  Why?  Because without the direct connection to Jesus the “vine,” the “branches” bear no fruit.

What does this mean?  Throughout his life Jesus gave multiple examples of how to treat the neighbor which was the principal message he gave his disciples.  Today’s Gospel tells us that the best way to do this is to “abide” in Jesus, because abiding in Jesus seems to be the best way to follow his example.

But, how does one “abide” in Jesus?  Today’s Gospel gives us some ideas.  For example, when we commit sin we are not abiding in Jesus the “vine,” and as “branches” we will be cut off.  However, as “branches” we can “abide” in Jesus by reflecting seriously on that imagery.

We can see the vine as a Eucharistic symbol, and thus see a connection with the sacraments as a way of “abiding” in Jesus. Jesus  said at the last supper as he held up the bread, “…This is my body.”  (Matthew 26:26)  This reference is to the Eucharist.  Then there is also the question of the fruitful vine–bearing grapes.  Reference to the wine at the Eucharist I would imagine.

To abide in Jesus is what today’s Gospel tells us to do.  For without Jesus we can do nothing.  To  abide in Jesus reminds us of our baptismal obligation to be of service to/for others.  This obligation is fortified by our frequent reception of the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

So the next time that we feel overwhelmed by our concrete surroundings, a serious look at the wonders of nature, with plants and trees growing and blossoming, we can be reminded of death and resurrection in our own situations.  But, I suspect, one has to be a nature lover to truly appreciate the experience.

 

 

 

How many times have we been confronted with the question: “Should I do this…or not?”  The welfare of someone else would be affected, so the moral choice should be made very carefully.

I’m speaking of temptation which very often makes us ask the above question.  Keep in mind that temptation, in itself, is not a sin but rather an occasion to commit a sin.  The sin is in the choice made.

How does one deal with temptation?  The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent (Mark 1:12-15) gives us some ideas.  The brief gospel appears to be divided into two parts: Temptation and Belief.

In the first part (Mark 1:12-13), Jesus is driven to the desert (by the Holy Spirit) where he was tempted.  Unlike Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 4:1-11) where the temptations are specified, none are specified in Mark.  Simply put, Jesus is tempted but does not fall into temptation.

In the second part (Mark 1:14-15), Jesus is proclaiming the “Good News” in and around Galilee.  What part of the “Good News” was Jesus proclaiming?  “Repent” and “Believe,” two key issues which prepared the listeners to have an open heart to hear the fuller message.

Concerning “repentance” the Greek uses the word metanoeite which means “turning around.”  A change in behavior was what was being demanded by Jesus.  That “turning around” would make it possible to hear the whole of the Good News.  After the “turning around” what was asked was to “believe” in the rest of the Good News.

Now would be a good time to ask what the above Gospel reading would have to say to us.  This may seem weird, but I think that the underlying element of this gospel message was that of taking seriously our own Baptism.  Why?

The few verses before the above gospel reading speak of Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11) and the role of the Holy Spirit  is specifically mentioned.  The Holy Spirit is the one who brings Jesus into the desert where Jesus is to overcome temptation.  Then Jesus goes into Galilee “proclaiming” the Good News.  It is fair to conclude that because of his baptism, Jesus was able to resist temptation and proclaim the Good News, because he had the support of the Holy Spirit.

So it is with us.  Because of our having been baptized, we are able to confront temptation with the support of the Holy Spirit.  If we consent to the temptation, repentance (Sacrament of Reconciliation) will help us open our hearts to listen to the Good News.

Our belief in the Good News will be conditioned by what our knowledge tells us about the Nicene Creed and our reading/hearing of the Holy Scriptures.  Remember that people will judge us according to our behavior. Then they will decide whether we are true disciples of Jesus…or not.

Who of us has not had problems over the years?  When we planned for success, there was often failure.  No matter what we did, there was little if any success.  Failure seemed to become the regular outcome. In this and other kinds of similar situations, the result often appeared hopeless.  It was as if the doors of hopelessness were slamming shut all around us, so what we needed were keys of “hope” to unlock those doors.

And where could we find these keys?  The readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Job 7:1-7 and Mark 11:29-39) would make good candidates.  In the reading from Job we note that he appears to be in a hopeless situation because of what happened to him earlier.  His children have died, he has no belongings, and he seems to be suffering from a rare disease. He cannot understand why God has abandoned him.  His condition appears hopeless.

In the Gospel reading (Mark 1:29-39), Jesus cures Peter’s mother-in-law thus manifesting his healing power.  Whereas in the reading from Job we find Job experiencing hopelessness, nevertheless we note that in the Gospel reading that Peter’s mother-in-law experiences hope in having been healed by Jesus.

There are three phrases in the Gospel that seem to play a significant part of the healing process.  (1)-“He came and took her by the hand…”  There was actual contact between Jesus and Peter’s mother in law.  (2)-“…lifted her up…”  Jesus helped her to rise. Reminder of the resurrection.  (3)-“Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.”

Regarding the first phrase, “taking her by the hand,” manifests the healing power of Jesus which is communicated by physical contact.  This suggests that action is necessary to bring about healing.  We heal others by doing something on their behalf.

Concerning the second phrase, “…he lifted her up,” we can assume that illness is not the only thing that makes us fall.  The spiritual illness of sin can make our spirits fall, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation can raise us up again.

It is interesting to note that later in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 5:41), Jesus raises a little girl from the dead using similar words as in the current reading.  “(He) took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum,” which means “Little girl, get up.”  The first phrase had to do with touch, the second deals with lifting up.

The third phrase is: “…She began to serve them…” In the Greek the word is almost the same as for “deacon” who is  ordained principally to serve.  Every baptized Christian has the basic responsibility to serve others.

What can we learn from this Gospel?  Keeping the above three points in mind, we can reflect on them by trying to answer these questions.

TOUCH:  How are we touched by Jesus?  He touches us by virtue of the sacraments, esp. the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I touch others by virtue of my good example, namely, by doing things on their behalf.

LIFTING UP:  How seriously have I fallen into sin, especially if observed by others?  Constant images of the resurrection  should be the dominant image for me in terms of being lifted up.

SERVICE:  Is my sense of service geared principally for my benefit, or do I actually intend to serve others by my good example?

I strongly suggest that “touch,” “lift,” and “service” can function as serviceable keys of hope to unlock the doors of hopelessness that are all around us now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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During the celebration of the Oscar awards ceremony, the most anticipated moment is not the gawking at the somewhat “de rigeur” dresses the actresses are wearing, but, rather, the  moment that the names of the winners are called.  “Is my name going to be called…or not?”

The first reading for for the second Sunday in Ordinary Time (I Samuel 3:3-19) and the Gospel (John 1:35-42) speak to us in terms of names and responses.

In the first reading from the book of Samuel, the boy hears his being name called and thinks it is his mentor Eli the elder. It was late at night.  So the boy runs to Eli and tells him that he heard his name called, and went to see what he wanted.  Eli said he didn’t call and to go back to sleep.

This call-response event occurred twice again, and finally Eli told Samuel that it was the Lord calling him.  The fourth and final time Samuel heard his name called, he responded “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

In the Gospel, John the Baptist and two of his disciples saw Jesus walk by and  John blurts out, “Look, here is the ‘Lamb of God'”   The disciples started to follow Jesus.  Andrew, one of the disciples of John, found his brother Simon and told him that they had found the Messiah (=the one sent), and then took him to Jesus.

Jesus sized up Simon and told him, “You are Simon, son of John, from now on you will be called Cephas (=Peter).”  What we note in these two readings is the name being called and a response.

In the first reading Samuel hears his name, and when he realizes it is the Lord calling him, he responds, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  In the Gospel, Simon not only hears his name called by Jesus, but also his name is changed to Peter.  His response is one of discipleship which we see in the rest of the Gospels.

What does this mean for us?  First of all, the Lord is calling each of us by name to be of service to others, for example: justice, compassion, forgiveness, and other virtues of service.  It is up to us to recognize Jesus wherever we see him, likely in the poor, sick, homeless, and others in need.  The response of Samuel is crucial when our name is called: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is  listening.”  It is only by listening that we can hear the word.

Secondly, as in the Gospel Simon’s name was changed to Cephas (=Peter) which means “rock,” so our name is changed when we are baptized.  Because of Baptism, we officially called “disciple of Jesus” which means we continue his work on earth.

The fundamental question in this call-response dynamic seems to be: “Is there anything that is making me too deaf to hear the voice of the Lord?”  Attitude?  Temptation?

There is no response if I am not certain that I hear the voice of the Lord by asking  “Are you talking to me?”

 

How to deal with emigrants

In listening to or watching the news recently, we have been noticing that emigrants are major topics  of interest.  Many people, primarily from Middle Eastern and African countries, are being threatened by starvation and/or violence.  They want to go somewhere safe.  What to do?

The Gospel from the feast of the Epiphany offers a few reflective suggestions.  First, a relatively brief summary of the Gospel.  (Matthew 2:1-12)  Magi (astrologers) come from the East (a country “out there” somewhere) to honor the newborn king of the Jews, as they determined from the star which they followed.

When the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, they asked the question as to where this child could  be found.  They were told “in Bethlehem.”  Meanwhile, King Herod, who didn’t like competition for his kingship, asked the Magi to tell him precisely where the child was when the found him.  His reason, of course, was to kill Jesus.

The star that the Magi followed showed them where the child was and they offered him very expensive gifts. The fact that outsiders, according to Matthew, were the first to honor who Jesus was, is  considered an “Epiphany.”  (The word means “manifestation”) Then, told in a dream to return home in another way, the Magi did so.

Having become aware of Herod’s plan to kill the child, the Holy Family fled to Egypt for fear of the child’s assassination.  In this flight into Egypt, the Holy Family became emigrants.

What is the Gospel telling us?  Basically, it is telling us that both the Magi and the Holy Family were emigrants.  The Magi left their country for religious reasons (to honor Jesus), and the Holy Family left to avoid assassination (the potential killing of Jesus).  In fact, these are two very important reasons that we have emigrants in this day and age.  The major question is and remains “How do I respond to these emigrants today?”

The basic response would be to examine myself by asking and reflecting on more serious questions.  For example:  Who is my “outsider”?  Is it the one who speaks a foreign language, is from a strange culture, has a different color of skin?  Or perhaps, what about the homeless person?

An even more fundamental  issue for serious reflection is that passage from Genesis (Genesis 1:27) which tells us the God created everybody in his image and likeness.  This means that everybody else in the world is either my brother or sister.  Now ask yourself how you would likely treat a family member.  In God’s family there are no “outsiders.”

 

There are people who say, “It sure would be nice if I could  play a musical instrument, or be a star athlete.  I would be famous.  But I don’t, so I’m not.  Why?”  These people feel cheated because they don’t have the skills that they hoped to have.

Somehow, it seems unfair to blame God for not giving us the gifts that we wanted.  St. Paul tells us that we have all received gifts. Different ones but gifts just the same.  In fact, no one has been cheated.  (I Cor. 12:4-11, esp. v.7).

In the Gospel for the thirty third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 25:14-30) Jesus speaks to his disciples, in the form of a parable, of a man who entrusts others with money loans.

A man about to go on a journey calls in his servants for a very specific task.  He is going to entrust them with some money so that they may gain more while he  is away.

To the first servant he gives 5 “talents”  (a”talent”in Jesus’ time was a piece of silver worth much money).  To the second servant he gives 2 “talents.”  To the third servant he gives one “talent.”  The request was to see if the servants would utilize the money well.

When the man returned, he asked the servants for an accounting.  The servant who received 5 “talents” wound up doubling them, and this made the owner happy, so he rewarded the servant.

The servant who received 2 “talents” also doubled them, so he received praise and a reward.  But the servant who received 1 “talent” buried it.  This servant was chastised because he did nothing with the “talent.”

So, what could this Gospel be saying to us?  First of all, the word “talent” refers not only to the coinage in the parable, but it can also refer  to the “gift” that God has given us.  When we use the word “talent” regarding ourselves, we refer to the gift that we have, for example. being  able play a musical instrument or being a successful athlete.

Secondly, we are all born with talent/s, to be distinguished from the limitations which we have.  The challenge is to be able to tell the difference between the two so that our limitations do not dominate our relationships with other people.  The talents (gifts) should do that.

For instance, people who come asking for advice may be more open to listening to us rather than to our non existent piano playing.  Yet, there could be some who would be better soothed by our piano playing than by our constant chatter.  Depends upon the gift.

In other words, we are all born with certain talents (gifts) AND limitations.  That is to say that there are things that we can do easily, and other things that would be virtually impossible to do well.

Practice makes perfect.  Whenever we are in contact with other people, we should display our talents (“gifts” such as justice, compassion, understanding, and the like) rather than our limitations (the lack of the above).

The servants who  were given 5 and 2 talents wound up doubling them.  They were praised and rewarded.  We who have received several “talents” (gifts) should be using them for the benefit of others, thus “doubling” them, thus bettering the situation.

The servant who received 1 “talent” buried it. For this he was punished. We who have received one”talent” (gift) should use it to benefit the welfare of others.  For this was the gift given.  Simply put, we should thank God for the gifts that he has given us whatever they are.

And that gratitude should contain the request to help us be very aware of the differences between limitations and gifts.  Because that knowledge will make our “talent” (gift) very useful

Many people have trouble with authority figures.  Most likely, it is because they think that the authority figures have control over them since they are their “bosses.”

Recently, in the news there has been much coverage of how some men have “taken advantage” of women because these men have been the women’s “bosses.”  How does one deal with something like this grave disparity?

In the Gospel for the Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 23:1-12) , Jesus deals with authority figures and offers appropriate responses.  He does so by speaking of two significant issues.  The one internal, and the other external.

First, the internal.  Speaking to the crowds  and to his disciples, Jesus says regarding the Scribes and the Pharisees (authority figures during Jesus’ times), “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to help them.  All their works are performed to be seen.”

Jesus’ response to the present crowd and to his disciples regarding their “religious” bosses”?  The simple statement, “You are all brothers,” calls to mind the Genesis perception that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God.  (Gen. 1:26)

The Greek word used here for “brother” is adelphos which refers directly to the family member. This means that among family members there should not be “bosses” who feel they have control over other members.  Jobs of responsibility, in which one gives orders and another accepts them, for the betterment of society—yes.  Jobs of control over others—no.

The internal aspect of this relationship (boss and worker) is the realization that we are all family, hence brother and sister to each other, so there should be the treatment of mutual dignity.  However, this internal aspect must be expressed in order for the relationship to be functional.  How does this happen?

Second, the external.  Jesus’ response to the internal expression of  this family relationship is to be of genuine service to others.  (Matt. 23-11)  The Greek word is diakonos which is a word that deals with concrete issues, for example, doing justice, being compassionate, expressing forgiveness, and the rest of Jesus’ teachings.  This is how members of God’s family should deal with each other.

In sum, we take seriously what Jesus alludes to in the Gospel.  Internally, we are all members of God’s family (including bosses/workers). This internal realization expresses itself externally by way of service.

The final statement in this Gospel is, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”  What does it mean to be “humble”?  Fundamentally, it means being yourself, aware of your gifts and limitations.  No one has been cheated, we all have gifts.  We simply have to find out what they are. Limitations become clearer as time goes on.  So, humility means being aware of our gifts and employ those while dealing with others.  Humility also means being aware of our limitations and not allowing them to become more prominent than the gifts.

What we say and do tells people how humble we are.  When gifts are more evident than the limitations in our human relationships, then people will know that we are in charge.

 

 

 

Most likely you have heard someone say, “I love your outfit.  The colors look well on you”  Or perhaps, “I love that piece of music.  It seems to calm me.”  We know that these statements of “love” actually refer to more meaningful words such as “like” or “appreciate.”   In fact, there seems to be a growing misuse of the word “love.”  Do the words “like” and “appreciate” seem to interplay with the word “love” and then get mixed up?

What does the word “love” truly mean?  In the Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 22:34-40) Jesus attempts to put the word/idea into context.

One of the Pharisees, a lawyer no less, asks him if he could sum up the Jewish Law because there appear to be so many rules and regulations. Without doubt, a verbal trap. Jesus replies by saying that the Law could be summed up in two commandments.  No doubt this statement raised a few eyebrows.

“He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  And a second is like it.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matt. 22:37-40)

What does this mean?  Jesus said that to love God one must love him completely with heart, soul, and mind.  This strongly suggests that this love is prompted by feeling, that is to say that it is “internal,” quite likely the expression of gratitude for the many blessings received and yet to come.

But this internal love becomes “external” when it leads to action, such as deeds of justice, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and everything else that expresses the teachings of Jesus.

That is to say, that loving God completely for all his gifts and blessings (internal) is manifested (external) in the ways that I treat my neighbor.  Consequently, the law is summed up by loving God and loving neighbor.  Both are part of the same dynamic.

It seems t0 me that we could appreciate this dynamic by focusing our intention on our Baptism.  Why?  Our Baptism reminds us of the Sinai covenant where God established a mutual relationship with Israel.  Moses is the middleman.  Through Moses God said to the Israelites, “Now, therefore, If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples….”  (Exodus 19:5)

Israel was to keep the covenant, and God would protect his people.  A mutual commitment. The covenant contained the Ten Commandments which includes responsibilities to God and to people.  Our Baptism makes the same demands from us.  Consequently, love of God and love neighbor sum up all of our responsibilities.

Now that the feast of Thanksgiving is verging on the horizon, this would be a good time to recount all of our gifts and blessings and begin anew the love of God and neighbor.

 

 

Have you ever been invited to a party which was celebrating something special?  Wedding? Birthday?  Anniversary?  And would there be any problem if you didn’t go?

The Gospel for the Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 22:1-14) shows Jesus dealing with a somewhat analogous situation.  Again he is speaking principally to the chief priests and the elders of the people.  Once more he teaches his lesson by way of a parable.

A “parable” is a story in which people, places, and things have another meaning.  For instance, Jesus begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven IS LIKE a king who gave a wedding party for his son…”  Here the analogue begins.

Most likely, the “kingdom of heaven” refers to God’s law which deals with treating others with dignity, justice, compassion, understanding and forgiveness.  There is to be order in human relationships.  The “king” quite likely is God.  The “wedding feast” could easily refer to the completed work of Jesus on earth (passion, death, resurrection, examples, and teachings.  This continues the notion of the “kingdom of God”)  Obviously, the “Son” is Jesus.

The parable continues.  “The king sent his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come…”  The invited guests are the people of Israel.  The invitation was made as the Sinai covenant, where Moses was the spokesperson and, on behalf of God, told the Israelites, “Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.”  (Exodus 19:5)

This is a bi-lateral covenant.  That is to say, if the people kept the covenant (primarily the ten commandments), then God would give them protection.  The decision was Israel’s whether to be God’s people or not.

The “servants” were the prophets.  In reading the Old Testament we know that Israel did not always choose to keep the requirements of the Sinai covenant.

So the king sent out another set of servants to invite the uninvited to the wedding feast.  Those who could, came.  But a rather curious event occurred at the feast itself.  The king spotted an individual without a wedding garment, something presupposed at an occasion like this.  But the fellow simply walked in off the streets and, presumably, had no occasion to obtain a wedding garment.  Why was the king so rough on him?

Remember that this is a parable, which means that items here represent something else.  Those listening to Jesus have a pretty good sense of Israel’s history, so it was not too difficult to establish the analogies.

Most likely, the “wedding garment” was the necessary form of identifying that someone wearing one belonged at the wedding feast.  And as Jesus began the parable by saying, “The kingdom of God is like a wedding feast…”  we suspect that the wedding garment  carries on the notion of compassion, justice, forgiveness, and respect for others as the Sinai covenant and Jesus’ life and teachings requested.

What the Gospel reading can teach us is that our Baptism made us disciples of Jesus which means that we have the obligation to proclaim his life and teachings to others.  Our Baptism is our invitation to the “wedding feast,” and we have the choice of either accepting it or not.  And if we accept the invitation, we must not forget our “wedding garment” which is the promotion of peace, justice, and compassion.

If someone does me wrong, do I tend to get even or do I look for some other way to resolve the issue?  Vengeance comes to mind as a possibility.  But the fact is there are often unwanted results which wind up causing more problems.

In the Gospel for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 18:21-35) Peter and Jesus deal with a similar question.  Peter asks, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?”

Jesus replies by way of a parable.  “A certain king decided to settle accounts with his servants.  He came across a servant who owed him much money.  If the servant couldn’t pay he and his family would be sold until repayment was made.  The servant realized what was happening, so he asked the king for patience and mercy.  The king had compassion and forgave the servant his debt.”

“That same servant, who had been forgiven, came across a fellow servant who owed him money.  The forgiven servant asked his fellow servant for immediate repayment, which was virtually impossible.  Then he asked for patience and mercy.  This was denied him, so time in jail was his only option.”

“Other servants, observing this interchange of behavior, were horrified because they knew that the demanding servant was forgiven his debt because of the patience and mercy of the king.  Yet, he decided not to exercise the same patience and mercy on his fellow servant as the king had exercised on him.  So the larger group of servants went to the king to share the news.”

“So the king called back the servant whose debt he had forgiven, and said to him, ‘You should have had patience and mercy on your fellow servant as I had on you.’  So the king then arranged that the wicked servant  would be responsible for repaying the entire debt immediately.”

What just happened here?  We know that the Gospel is about forgiveness of others.  And this “forgiveness” is not just a one time gesture but also a constant occurrence.  This “forgiveness” must be motivated by patience and compassion in order to be genuine.  Incidentally, the word “compassion” comes from the Latin which means “to suffer with.”

If the Gospel is about constant  forgiveness of the other, what about forgiveness of the self?  It seems to me that patience and compassion are very important in that area as well.  We often need forgiveness, which is what the sacrament of Reconciliation is about.  We often feel sorry for our failures.  In fact, we “suffer with” that repentance which brings us to confession.

There is a reminder which can be an ongoing reflection of what forgiveness is all about.  And that is the Lord’s Prayer.  How often do we pray it without reflecting on the words?  The phrase that touches the above Gospel is,
“Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive others…”

This means that forgiveness is a two way street.  We will not be forgiven unless we forgive others (including ourselves).

When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I learned a very important lesson.  One Sunday afternoon our family took a walk to the local park.  While there we enjoyed a boat ride on the local lake, had fun on the carousel, and too quickly came the time to walk home.  Dad was in a good mood, so as we began our walk back from the park he decided to do some cartwheels.  Very impressive!

Finally, when we arrived home Dad was about to get the key to the front door.  As it turned out, he lost the key doing the cartwheels.  The house key was in his shirt pocket.

However, we eventually got in.  My lesson was to appreciate the importance of the key.  Keep it in a safe place.  Later I began to appreciate the symbolism of the key.  It is a sign of authority.  The key holder can let people in or keep them out.

The Gospel for the Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 16:13-20) appears to place a great deal of importance to keys.  It seems to me that in order to get a fuller picture of the Gospel, we should focus on two themes: The identification of Jesus, and the importance of the key.

First of all, the identification of Jesus.  Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do others say that I am?”  I could imagine the disciples with a quizzical look on their faces, rubbing their chins, looking heavenward, and replying, “Some say you are John the Baptist.”  “Others say you are Elijah.”  “Maybe Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

Then Jesus focused his question, “But who do YOU say that I am?”  It was important for the disciples to know the master, since they were going to continue his work.

Peter blurts out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  It is necessary to point out what Peter was actually saying.  “Christ” is the translation for the Hebrew word “Messiah,” which means “The one who was sent.”  It appears that Peter was a believer in the Immanuel (=”God with us”) promise, that God would be with his people.

Secondly, the theme of the keys.  After this profession of faith and recognizing Peter’s leadership potential,  Jesus employs the image of the keys indicating authority.  “…I will give you the KEYS of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  (Matt: 16:19)

Now would be a proper time to ask the question of what this part of the Gospel could mean to me personally.  Actually, when we are baptized we become disciples of Jesus.  “Discipleship” means “the learning process.”  The disciple learns from the master, and we have much of the New Testament telling us what Jesus said and did regarding others.

Thus we learn about justice, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and other virtues.  Our belief system is manifested by our behavior pattern.  Our KEY is the constant reminder of our Baptism by which which we became disciples of Jesus.

That is to say, that every time we encounter the locked doors of resistance such as injustice, lack of compassion, anger and hostility, the “key” of our  Baptismal responsibilities, such as justice and compassion, would easily open those doors.  Indeed, we could share with Peter the disciple’s version of “the keys of the kingdom.”

Let’s face it.  We all seem to be afraid of something.  For some people,  it is driving in the dark.  For others, it is the fear of flying.  When you stop to think about it, many of us have some kind of fear which can limit our line of activities.  But in addition to material fears, there are spiritual fears as well.

Just what is “fear”?  Many dictionaries would likely describe it as a disagreeable emotion caused by the belief that someone or something can cause me pain or anxiety.  But can one handle “fear” once it makes its appearance?

In the Gospel for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 14:22-32) the theme of “fear” plays a rather significant role.  Here is what the Gospel tells us.

Jesus goes up to a mountain to PRAY.  It is his way of coming into personal contact with God the Father, which is necessary for making proper judgements about other people.  Meanwhile, some of his disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Suddenly, heavy winds emerge and tend to blow the boat almost out of control, causing the disciples to panic.  No doubt, they were AFRAID.  And that FEAR  was intensified when they saw Jesus walking on the water towards them.  They presumed that Jesus was a ghost.

When Jesus was about to reach the boat, he told the disciples that it was he and firmly stated ” Do not be AFRAID.”  Impetuous Peter then asked Jesus if he (Peter) could walk on water toward Jesus.  After an affirmative response  Peter got out of the boat and started to walk on the water toward Jesus.

But the winds were still strong and Peter became FRIGHTENED.  He began to sink and called out for help.  Jesus reached out to Peter, helped him, and then said, “O you of little faith.  Why did you DOUBT?”  Peter doubted the power of Jesus because he was afraid.

What lesson can we learn from the Gospel?  Two of the themes appear to be bound together, namely, “prayer” and “fear.”  Our potential lessons can be learned from that juncture.

First of all, there is “prayer.”  Jesus goes up to the mountain alone to pray because  this is how he has his personal encounter with God the Father.  Consequently, we must constantly “climb our mountain” (whatever it is) to have our personal encounter with God.  It is that encounter that gives us the courage and authority to deal with fear, whatever its source.  Therefore, we should ask ourselves precisely what is this “mountain” where I can have a personal encounter with God.  Silent/sacramental prayer?  Close friendship?

Secondly, we must also discover what is that item of which we are afraid.  As a disciple we should be fearful of sin, particularly if it is easy to commit.  In fact, it is prayer that strengthens our faith and enables us to believe in the authority of Jesus.

Prayer strengthens faith and conquers doubt.  As he  stretched his hand to help Peter in his moment of doubt, so Jesus stretches his hand to help us in our moments of doubt.  Maybe it is time to ask ourselves what is it that we fear the most?  Not just on the practical level, but on the spiritual level as well.

For me, “spring cleaning” is a year around process.  As I rifle through boxes, a very distinct choice presents itself.  “Shall I keep this item or throw it away?”  The basis for the choice is generally founded upon either nostalgia or possible future use.

I may find photos or documents that bring back “interesting” experiences which may tell me of what I was like many years ago.  Or, discover written documents (courses that I taught in the past) that may be of use again.

The readings for the seventeenth Sunday on Ordinary Time (I Kings 3:5-12; Romans 8:28-30; and Matthew 13:44-52) present us with some choices that can help us decide what to keep or what to throw away when we deal with other people.

The first reading (I Kings 3:5-12) tells us that God appeared to King Solomon in a dream, telling him that he would give him what he wanted.  Instead of asking for wealth or permanent battle victories, Solomon asked for an “understanding heart” so that he could judge people more fairly.

In the second reading (Romans 8:28-30), Paul tells the Romans, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God….”

In the Gospel reading (Matthew 13:44-52) Jesus tells his disciples, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field….”  In effect, Matthew is saying that the kingdom of heaven is nothing more than making God present in our lives.

What can we learn from the above readings? The principal lesson, it seems to me, is to accept totally the fact that we are disciples of Jesus and, as such,  our main task is to make God present in all of our lives all of the time.

And how do we do that?  The above biblical readings can help us.  We do this by our example of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  Just as Solomon asked for an “understanding heart” in order to judge more fairly, so we can ask for such a heart in order to grasp the realities of good/bad example.

We can do this also by accepting the well intentions/actions of others in helping us make God present in our daily situation.  Paul tells the Romans, in effect,  that good people often make good choices.

The Gospel reading suggests to us that making God present in our situations is such a marvelous experience, much like finding a pearl of great price.

Understanding others in order to make good judgements about them, accepting the support of people to facilitate the process will help us make God’s presence in this world a year long job.  That is to say that “spring cleaning” could well last the entire twelve months of the year.  Very likely. we will know what to keep and what to throw away.

 

Sometimes in a moment of anger or frustration, we often say something to another person which can be very hurtful.  As soon as we see the reaction, we realize that we have “crossed the line.”  But it is too late, the deed is done.

How can you take back the awful thing that you have said?  The fact is, we don’t really understand the power of the spoken word.

The first of the biblical readings for the fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time is from the book of the prophet Isaiah (55:10-11).  The reading is only a couple of verses long, but it does say something about the power of the word.

Isaiah draws a distinction between the word when it is spoken and when it is fulfilled–the secondary action is the automatic fulfillment of the first. That is to say,  that when a word is spoken, it will be automatically fulfilled.  For example:

“For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  (Isaiah 55:10-11 RSV)

The point of comparison (“as,” “so”) is the fulfillment of the spoken word.  As the rain and the snow make the earth fruitful, so the word of God will be completed.  In Isaiah, the Hebrew equivalent of “word” is DABAR, which has the sense of the spoken word which will be fulfilled.  It is an automatic process.

What can we learn from this reading of Isaiah?  First of all, we learn that the word of God has power.  Secondly, we as disciples of Jesus are committed to proclaim (preach, speak) the message of Jesus, which is one of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  Fulfillment of the message (“words”) is not just verbal, but comes to completion only by our behavior.

So, it is good to watch what we say.  Because if we believe what we say, only our behavior will be the proof.

Possibly,  one of the most difficult things a person can do is to commit oneself.  A key example is the willingness of individuals to commit to marriage.  For a while I was  part of a team involved in a process called Engaged Encounter.  One of the goals was to prepare the couple to focus on significance of one of the marriage vows “for better or worse.”

The de facto situation was that after the marriage, problems seemed to develop.  For instance, apparently insoluble problems arose,  such as differences in living together, raising children, the apparent danger of extra-marital relationships.  And the list could go on.

In the Gospel reading for the thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 10:37-42), Jesus, in one of his post-resurrectional appearances, is asking his key disciples to continue to proclaim his message “for better or worse.”  This means, of course, that there is a likelihood that there may be worse times because family and/or friends may get in the way.  Consequently, the commitment to Jesus must be total.

A major part of that totality will be the willingness to “take up the cross.”  It basically means that unpleasant things may come our way and we will have to deal with them.  It may mean martyrdom or it may not.  The challenging aspects, however, will be the seriousness of our commitments to promote justice, manifest compassion, be forgiving, and to treat others with dignity.  If done correctly, that may be a form of martyrdom itself.

In truth, what is Jesus really asking of us as committed disciples?  First of all, that our willingness to pass on his message of justice, compassion, and forgiveness be a total commitment.  Secondly, although we might meet obstacles along the way, sometimes from family and/or friends, nevertheless,  we remain committed to pass on Jesus’ message.  Third, there are people out there who are as committed to Jesus as you and they can be a source of moral support.

Even more important, God has given gifts to all of us.  No one has been cheated.  Genesis reminds us that we were all made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) so that there is a sense of equality among all of us.  Our task is to find out what those gifts are.  We have them.  All we have to do is discover them.

So, there we have it.  By being totally committed to the sharing of Jesus’ message with others, and by being grateful  for the gifts received, we can become more effective disciples of Jesus “for better…or worse.”

 

 

These were comforting words by President Franklin Roosevelt to the people when the US was entering WWII in 1941.  Folks were afraid of what might happen.  The imagination was running loose.  In fact, fear has been one of the  most common experiences all of us have shared.  We are “afraid” of the future for probabilities that might be of harm to us.

One biblical example of fear that comes to mind is the account of the Annunciation.  The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she is to be the mother of Jesus.  Wonderful things are said about Jesus.  Early in the greeting, Gabriel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid…”  But she was afraid.  Afraid of what people might think of a pregnant unmarried teenager.  But after the angel’s explanation regarding the fear, Mary accepted the task saying, in effect, “I’ll accept the Lords’ plan for me.”  (Luke 1:26-38)

If we look at the Gospel reading for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 10:26-33) we note that “fear” is  the principal topic of concern.  The post-resurrectional appearance of Jesus to his chosen disciples has him greeting them with the phrase “Fear no one.”  And since Jesus had been crucified for alleged criminal behavior, the disciples preferred to be in hiding for safety’s sake.  Again, the fear was due because of the unknown.  No one knew what the future might bring.

However, Jesus was ready to give his missionary discourse before he was about to return to heaven.  Before his return, Jesus needed someone to carry on his message of justice, compassion, understanding, and  forgiveness.  His disciples would do it, but they had to have faith in both the message and themselves.  Properly proclaiming the message depended on two things.

First.  The disciples have to believe in themselves.  They had to maintain the basic biblical idea that “God is with us.”  (IMMANUEL=Hebrew for “God is with us.”  The seasons of Advent and Christmas remind us of this.)  If this belief is maintained then many things are possible, as we saw above in the case of Mary.  “Belief” conquers “fear.”

Second.  The disciples have to believe in the message.  If others see that the disciples are proclaiming one things and doing another, they may have legitimate  questions about the disciples’ motivation. In order to be believed we have to practice what we preach.

In fact, belief  in the presence of “God with us” together with the belief in the effectiveness of Jesus’ message removes the fear that we may have of whatever may come in the future.

It may be well to remember that at the end of the Sunday Gospel alluded to above, Jesus tells his disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.  But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 10:32-33)

What true follower of Jesus can be afraid of this?

 

 

 

You may be among those who remember the old time revival song, “Will the circle be unbroken?”  I remember because I wondered what was meant by the “circle.”  I later realized that it likely meant that something kept going on for what seemed forever.

Well, in a way we have a “circle” which is often referred to as the Liturgical Year.  Annually, we are reminded of the life, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus and of the continuity of his life and message.

The feast of the Ascension can serve as the midpoint between the life of Jesus on earth and the continuity of his message proclaimed by his disciples.  The gospel of the the feast (Matthew 28:16-20)  may help us summarize its significance.

First of all, the Liturgical Year.  The year begins with the celebration of ADVENT/CHRISTMAS.  The idea is that God becomes human in the person of Jesus Christ  It is the “coming” (which is what Advent means) of Christ to earth.  In fact, there was a Scriptural belief that some day IMMANUEL would come.  (Isaiah 7:14)  “Immanuel” is Hebrew for “God with us.”  Consequently, the idea of “God with us” was a crucial part of the biblical expectation.

Next came the season of LENT/EASTER which was bringing to a finish the life/message of Jesus.  His suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead manifested his power over life and death affirming the strength of his life’s message.  The feast of the ASCENSION tends to become the midpoint between his coming from heaven (“God with us”)  and returning there.  But not before commissioning his disciple to carry on his message.  This commissioning is contained in the day’s gospel.

What follows is the feast of PENTECOST which is the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples empowering them with the grace and fortitude to proclaim Jesus and his message to others.  I prefer to think that a good translation of Holy Spirit is the “creative power of God”  (Hebrew=ruah YHWH).  For example, we see God’s power (ruah) as being creative.  (Gen. 1:1)

Secondly, how is the above summarized in the Gospel for the Ascension?  There are three concepts that are keys to this summary, namely, “mountain”, “commissioning,” and the “Immanuel promise.” (Matt. 28:16-20)

1)-“Mountain” is a frequent biblical image which reflects the union between heaven and earth.  Something special was about to happen there, for example, Mt. Sinai, Sermon on the mount, the Transfiguration, Mt. Calvary.  What is my “mountain” where I can encounter Jesus?

2)-“Commissioning”  means carrying the work imposed on you.  Jesus commissions his disciples to carry on his work of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  Do I take my commissioning at my Baptism seriously?

3)-The “Immanuel promise” contains the notion that God is with us at all times.  Does my example give credence and fulfillment to that promise?

Finally, these concepts of finding our “mountain” (encountering Jesus) and taking our “commissioning” seriously (maintaining our Baptismal promises) will help us fulfill the “Immanuel promise” (“God with us”) by means of our example.  This seems to be a good way of keeping the circle (Liturgical Year) unbroken.

 

 

On the road

How many times have you walked into a busy place and noticed someone that you thought you knew?  The face and demeanor seemed familiar, but the person’s name would not come to mind.

In the Gospel for the third Sunday of Easter (Luke 24:13-35) we have something similar.  Two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and are joined by Jesus.  They don’t recognize him, but he does seem familiar.

While on the road they discuss what recently happened in Jerusalem, namely, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.  After they explain to Jesus the content of their conversation,  Jesus tells them what the Scriptures say about the Messiah.  When the group reaches Emmaus, the disciples invite Jesus to join them in a meal.  Jesus accepts and joins them.

It was when Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples that they knew that their road companion was actually Jesus.  Most likely, these gestures reminded them of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  As the Gospel reading tells us, “…He became known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  (Luke 24:35)  Then the disciples returned to Jerusalem and  shared their recent experience with Jesus’ closest followers.

What is this Gospel reading telling us?  We can get some idea by noting what Luke does in this reading.  First of all, he divides this section into four parts.  Secondly, we can incorporate these divisions into our lives.

Luke’s four parts: (1)-The MEETING.  Jesus joins the disciples “on the road.”  (2)-CONVERSATION EN ROUTE.  Jesus explains the role of the Messiah by way of the Scriptures.  (3)-EMMAUS MEAL.  Jesus is recognized  “…in the breaking of the bread.”  (4)-RETURN TO JERUSALEM.  The two disciples share their experience of Jesus with others.

Our Lesson?  (1)-The MEETING.  We have to meet Jesus every day.  We are always “on the road.”  It is through the encounter with Jesus that we have hope in this challenging world.  (2)-CONVERSATION EN ROUTE.  Prayer in our lives is nothing more than conversation with God.  (3)-EMMAUS MEAL.  We recognize Jesus “…in the breaking of the bread.”  Mass and Communion are very important for us.  (4)-RETURN TO JERUSALEM.  Our life (good example) is the best way way of sharing Jesus with others.

In other words, it is by the “meeting,” “conversation,” “Emmaus meal,” and “sharing Jesus” that we can celebrate the real blessings of Easter.  For as long as we are “on the road” we can use all the help that we can get.

Sight.  Smell.  Taste.  Touch.  Hearing.  These are the five human senses and the principal ways we have of experiencing the world.  Let me ask you this.  If for some reason you were to lose all these senses but one, which one would you keep?

For me, it would be “sight” probably because I do a lot of reading and enjoy viewing nature throughout the year.  The gospel for the fourth Sunday of Lent (John 9:1-41) reaffirmed the importance of sight.

In the gospel we have the story of the man born blind cured by Jesus.  It appears that one of the principal theological themes in the gospel is that of “darkness” versus “light.”  This theme appears to be symbolized in the encounter between the blind man and Jesus’ healing him.  To understand the theme we must look at two things.

First of all, the context.  As the blind man approaches, Jesus makes clay and places it on the eyes of the blind man.  Then the man is told to go wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam, where the man is miraculously cured.

Then the Pharisees complain about Jesus because he worked this miracle on the Sabbath, a religious “no-no.”  This, according to the Pharisees, makes Jesus a “bad” man.

However, the former blind man spoke the truth, which is that he was blind but now he could see.  So, for him Jesus was a “good” man thus supporting the idea that God was on Jesus’ side.  God was always on the good side.  Then Jesus asked him if he believed in him (Jesus) and the man said “yes.”  That answer strengthened the bond that existed between the cured man and Jesus.

Secondly, what can we learn from the above context?  Basically, it is the “darkness” versus “light” theme played out in real life.  Darkness is both physical and spiritual.  Physical in the case of the man born blind and spiritual in the sense that the Pharisees were placing greater strength on the law of the Sabbath rather than on Jesus’ cure of the blind man.

In the early part of the Gospel, Jesus says: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world , I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5)  Jesus states from the beginning that he is the “light” who will oppose “darkness” in all its forms.

Jesus, as “light,” opposes “darkness.” He cures physical darkness by healing the blind man. But he is unable to cure spiritual darkness (sin) unless the sinner repents.  The Pharisees show no sign of repentance.  This seems to me to be the reason why Jesus asked the cured man if he believed in him (Jesus).

In addition, we note that Jesus performed his miracle with the use of water.  The blind man was told to go wash in the pool of Siloam at which time the miracle occurred.  Another example of the healing power of water is the story of Jesus and a Samaritan woman at the well.  (John 4:5-30).  For us, Baptism becomes a source of healing water.  Through Baptism we are bound to Jesus in a special way and are obligated to be responsible for each other by virtue of our good example.

I would suggest that some specific lessons we can learn regarding this “light” versus “darkness” theme are the following.  First, be conscious of our spiritual darkness (sin) and seek light  (forgiveness) when necessary (sacrament of Reconciliation).

Second, greater awareness of our Baptism (living water) by utilizing external elements, such as holy water (blessing ourselves when entering/exiting church).  The Easter Vigil presents us with concrete illustrations: The blessing of the Easter Candle (light out of darkness) and the blessing of water (to be used for Baptism).

The world in which we live is full of spiritual “darkness.”  The best way of bringing “light” would be by our example,  mentally nourished by the blessings of water (for Baptism) and light (the Easter candle) on Holy Saturday.

 

 

 

Many social scientists will tell you that much of our behavior is based upon our culture.  If you were familiar with cultural systems around the world, you could easily tell from where a person came.

In the gospel for the third Sunday in Lent (John 4:5-42) we note a cultural breach— at a well in Shechem Jesus speaks publicly to a Samaritan woman, of dubious reputation, and asks her for water.

First of all, Jews and Samaritans did not get along, mostly for cultural and religious reasons.  Secondly, the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman had a special theological focus.

And what was that theological theme?  “Living water.”  In the first part of the dialogue, Jesus asks the woman for water.  This is the cultural no-no.  The woman is puzzled because she is very aware of the presumed cultural norms.

Jesus’ response is to speak of his own importance, and if she knew of that importance, she would be asking him for living water.  Water is considered to be “living” when it is in motion, such as in a moving stream. This in opposition to still water which one finds in a well.

What did Jesus mean by living water?  Most likely it referred to Jesus’ revelation of his behavior and teaching to be passed on, such as justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  The words of Isaiah put it bluntly, “…Every one who thirsts, come to the water…” (Isaiah 55:1)  The thirst can come from any type of malfeasance.

Consequently, it is by doing that one can become thirsty, and then drink the living water.  The above listed virtues are not merely emotions to be felt, but are supposed to be realities expressed to/with others in order to become living water.

For us, Baptism becomes the image of living water, thus binding us to continue the revelation of Jesus, namely by his example of living and teaching how to deal with others, such as by promoting justice, expressing compassion, granting forgiveness.

The living water of our Baptism may tend to be forgotten from time to time, and there is the likelihood that we may thirst because of sinfulness.  What might be useful are some of the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”  I wonder why.

When you stop to think about it, we are warned about many things.  Medicine prescriptions tell us the amount to take or problems will follow.  How many times have we seen “No Trespassing” signs?  Or when doing grocery shopping the Nutrition Facts label tells us what good and bad products about the product.

Part of Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-12) comes across as a warning sign for the good things people should do.  This section we know as the Beatitudes.  It is interesting to note that this particular section begins with Jesus going up a mountain. (Matthew 5:1)  The “mountain” has often been used in the Bible to indicate that something significant was about to take place.  For example, MOUNT Sinai from where Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites, including the ten commandments, was the significant place where God and the Israelites established a mutual covenant.

So we know that Jesus had something important to say.  Namely, while observing the Law there is a shift in perspective from the way things were done to what is now being presented.  Jesus centers on the notion of “attitude” which brings in heart, feelings, and conscience.  A key word in this sermon on the mount is “Blessed,” which in the Greek means “Happy.”  I t seems that the emotional motivation for the action is important for doing what has to be done.  Those pointed out are the following:

POOR IN SPIRIT.  Those who feel unable to help themselves and feel the necessity of God’s help.  In fact, these are the humble.

THOSE WHO MOURN.  Sorrow for our own sins as well as the sins of others.

THE MEEK.  “Gentleness”( not “weakness”)  in not allowing violence or injustice to be done to anyone.

THOSE WHO SEEK RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Those who have  the attitude of maintaining the covenant relationship with God.

THOSE WHO ARE MERCIFUL.  Jesus often displayed mercy in his dealings with others.  He thought more of the individual person than of the perceived absoluteness of the Law.  At least one examples come to mind.  When Jesus’ disciples went through some grain fields on the Sabbath, they stopped to eat.  This raised the ire of some Pharisees who said the laws of the Sabbath forbid that.  Jesus’ response was that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  (Mark 2:23-28)  There is also the case of the woman caught in adultery.  (John 8:2-11)  Perspective!!  Attitude!!

PURE IN HEART.  Means an undivided obedience to God.  The “heart” is the center of human need, thinking, and feeling.

PEACEMAKERS.  Means something “active.”  Quite likely, it means that we are to love our enemies.  (Matthew 5:44-48)

THOSE PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS.  “Righteousness” is characterized by Christian practice and confessing Jesus.

What is Jesus asking of us?  The Beatitudes tell us to be humble; to have sorrow for our sins; to be gentle in not allowing injustice to be done;  to maintain a true relationship with God; to be merciful; to have obedience to God; to love my enemies; and to continue to proclaim Jesus to others.

The above won’t be easy, but it will present a major challenge throughout our lives.  Persecution is the warning presented, but the promise of Jesus is our fundamental hope.  (Matthew 5:11-12)

 

Not once but twice my brother and I were having lunch in towns well known for seeing famous film stars–Santa Monica and Malibu.  In the Santa Monica restaurant I called his attention to the presence of a movie star.  In the Malibu restaurant he called my attention to the individual who was famous not only in movies but also in TV.  We both felt it would be unwise to draw public attention to their presence.

No so John the Baptist.  In the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (John 1:29-34) John, seeing Jesus coming toward him and others, rather excitedly says in the hearing of others, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…” Now that’s a way of getting attention.

But why did John use the image of the “lamb” to refer to Jesus? I suspect that there is a historically theological reason for this.  Undoubtedly, those hearing John heard this reference and related it to their Exodus experience.  In the book of Exodus (Exodus 12:21-24), as the Israelites are about to leave Egypt, they are told by Moses to slaughter a lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of their houses.  Thus the angel of death will “pass over” their homes, and kill the first born of the Egyptians. The lamb thus became an image of salvation.

At Mass, just before the reception of Communion, the priest celebrant holds the host at eye level, and says, as did John, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world….”  in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and its salvific effect on humanity.

The second theme of significance in this Gospel is Baptism and the Holy Spirit.  Earlier Jesus had been baptized by John in the river Jordan.  At that juncture the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended  upon Jesus and John witnessed it.  Then John continued, “…He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”  (John 1:33)

What does this mean?  Basically it means that Baptism and the Holy Spirit will function together.  When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit as the “creative power of God” will enable us to deal with others as Jesus has instructed in his teachings.

So we have as the two themes of the day’s Gospel, the lamb and the Holy Spirit through Baptism.  We can learn from the image of the lamb that our suffering (maybe even death) can be a redemptive experience for ourselves and for others.  Note the illustration of the martyrs.  However, suffering can be a form of martyrdom.

Another point of significance is the awareness of the principal function of Baptism and the Holy Spirit.  Namely, the courage to be compassionate, forgiving, understanding, and a promoter of justice.  It is not hard to conclude that the above are necessary for effective discipleship.  Besides, by our behavior we will be drawing attention to somebody famous, namely Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Secrets

“Can you keep a secret?”  How often have we been asked this question?   Most likely, the “secret,” good or bad, may ultimately be a point of reflection which allows for a period of historical evaluation.  One thinks of significant issues that have happened and later thinks about them as having importance not only for us, but for others as well.  I suspect that Mary was just this type of person.

Why do I say this?  Well, for the feast of the Solemnity of Mary the Gospel tells us about the visit of the shepherds to the recently born Jesus  (Lk. 2:16-21).  They shared what they had been told by the angel.  The message was that a savior (which means “Jesus”) has been born in Bethlehem, and that peace would come.

The Gospel then tells us,  “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”  (Lk. 2:19)  A synonym for “ponder” is “reflect on.”  What things did Mary reflect on?  Those important things that a mother would have to reflect on throughout her life.  Her “secrets” were things to “ponder.”  Interestingly, Luke gives us further illustrations of this phenomenon.

The first example is the Annunciation (Lk. 1:26-38).  Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she, a virgin, is to be the mother of Jesus which surprised her very much.  What would the towns people say when they saw an unmarried teenager pregnant?  Her response to this and other potential problems was “…Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk. 1:38)  No doubt her “pondering” led her to allow God to be in charge.

Luke’s second example of Mary’s “pondering” comes at the time she and Joseph take the child Jesus to the Temple to be presented. (Lk. 2:22-38)  Jewish custom was that the firstborn male be presented in the Temple as an offering to God.

The righteous and devout  Simeon took the child Jesus in his arms, and said that this child would be the rise and fall of many.  Then he most likely looked at Mary and told her “…and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Lk. 2:35)   No doubt Mary had much upon which to reflect especially during the final days of Holy Week.

The next example of Luke regarding Mary’s reflective process is the loss of the twelve year old Jesus.  (Lk. 2:41-52)  It was the custom to go to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover.  On their way home, Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph and he thought the child was with Mary.  Soon they discovered that Jesus was nowhere to be found.

So they returned to Jerusalem to find the lost child.  Finally, they encountered him in the Temple conversing with teachers.  As a good Jewish mother, Mary demanded a reason and chided Jesus “Child, why have you treated us like this?”  Jesus’ response was pretty cryptic.  At any rate,  he returned to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them.  Then Luke ends the experience with the words, “…His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Mary accompanied Jesus throughout much of his life, from birth to death.  No doubt she had plenty of time to “ponder” what she had experienced during the times of the visit of the shepherds, the Annunciation, the Presentation of the child in the Temple as well as his loss at twelve years old.  Her pondering resulted in things such as doing God’s will, and realizing that bad things in life can happen as well as good things.

This “secret” (of pondering ) will remain within us and we should share it.  Why?  Because this reflection will help us to enable others, by our example, to expect experiences both good and bad and anticipate the doing of God’s will, no matter what happens.

Many is the time that we have not heard from relatives or friends, especially on holidays.  Often they  have been busy about many things, but we would enjoy a reminder every now and then.  Perhaps a phone call or a letter.  I don’t think anyone likes to be forgotten.

But, in fact, we do have reminders.  For the church minded we have feast days when we are reminded that somebody cares for us.  One of those moments is the feast of Christmas.  In the Gospel for Christmas (Mass during the day) the famous (and cryptic) first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel are read.

Much is made of the concept “Word,” and there are two items of particular concern.  First, John 1:1-5 reminds us distinctly of Genesis 1:1ff.  Both John and Genesis begin the same way:  “In the beginning….” dealing distinctly with creation.  Second,  John uses the concept “Word” (Greek: logos) as being participatory in the act of creation.  Genesis uses “spirit” (Hebrew: ruah) in the same participatory function, namely, the act of creation.  Because in Genesis, the acts of creation are preceded by “And God said….)

So, what does this mean?  That creation took place with the participation of the Word (“and God said…”) and the Spirit (I think a better translation for ruah is “the creative power of God.”)  The use of Word and Spirit (“creative power”) is highly suggestive.

Another significant concept in John’s gospel is in 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us….”  For the word “lived,” the Greek has “he pitched his tent.”  Which means that one can un-pitch the tent and go be with the group. The individual becomes mobile.

The above leads to an ultimate Christian belief, namely, that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ.  Hence the mobility of the tent to accompany his people.  This leads to the concept that God (in the person of Jesus) lives among us.  In Hebrew this is IMMANUEL, which means “God with us.”  Throughout the period of Advent we have often heard the hymn “O come, O come Immanuel…”  Advent is the time of expectation.

What we learn from the Gospel (John 1:1-18) most likely can be summed up in the following ways.  First, Jesus is the Word of power.  During his public ministry he created people anew by dealing with them in terms of justice, compassion, forgiveness, understanding, and healing.  His disciples were to carry on his work.

Secondly, throughout the Old Testament we notice that God’s presence among his people was crucial to their survival and service.  We note both the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple.  This Immanuel theme continued in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus and his dealings with other people.  Thus, Jesus continued to “pitch his tent” among those who felt marginalized.  As faithful disciples we are also expected to “pitch our tent” among those who feel marginalized by society.

If such is the case, then we know that God is with us and the hope of Immanuel continues to live on.

 

 

 

The value of climbing trees

Have you ever gone to the Rose Parade?  Have you gone to any parade?  How about a movie theater?  The reason I ask these questions is because I have done the above, and it has been my experience that very often someone taller than I would stand/sit in front of me thus blocking my vision.

In the Gospel for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 19:1-10), the tax collector Zacchaeus (undoubtedly rich from being a tax collector) finds himself in a similar situation.  He is short of stature, so when he hears that Jesus is coming into town he wants to see him.  But he can’t  because he is a “shorty” and can’t quite see over the heads of others.

So he does the next best thing.  He notices a sycamore tree nearby and climbs it in order to have a better view of Jesus.  When Jesus gets to the base of the tree he looks up and sees Zacchaeus.  Curiously enough Jesus looks up, sees Zacchaeus, and then invites himself to his house.

Zacchaeus came down from the tree and graciously greeted Jesus.  Then a curious thing happened.  During this personal encounter between the two, Zacchaeus had a conversion.  Quite likely, the conversion was due to the personal encounter with Jesus. Almost immediately Zacchaeus promises to give half of his possessions to the poor.  And to top this off, Zacchaeus also promises to overcompensate those whom he has cheated.  Jesus responds by saying that salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus.

What do we make of this?  This conversion experience took place when Zacchaeus had the personal encounter with Jesus.  It seems that whenever we have a “personal encounter” with Jesus, there is the distinct possibility of experiencing a conversion.  So the image of the “tree” in this Gospel becomes for us the starting point of the experience of conversion.

Jesus, in fact, constantly invites himself to our “house” which could be the Mass, the Sacraments, Prayer, dealing with others, or any other experience where the Christological focus is implied.  The invitation to visit our “house” is offered, but the acceptance will be dependent upon our willingness and ability to say “yes.”  And  like Zacchaeus we are all sinners.

Once we have had our personal encounter with Jesus, the conversion then takes place from being a “sinner” to being a “non-sinner.”  As a result, the poor and others will be positively affected by our conversion.

The major point to keep in mind is that the basic context for Zachaeus’ conversion began with climbing  the “tree.”  All we have to do now is to find our own “tree” (however we can encounter Jesus) and climb it in order to receive the personal invitation from Jesus to come to our “house” and have the conversion experience.  The fundamental task for us at the moment will be to find our “tree” and climb it.  Only then can we see Jesus and have the experience of a personal encounter with him.  What will be that “tree” for you?

And then there was one

It is important to keep in mind that Luke’s Gospel was basically geographically oriented.  Jesus was eventually going to wind up in Jerusalem.  Why Jerusalem?  It was the big “city,” and whatever significant thing was going to happen, it would happen in Jerusalem. The Jewish leadership was there.  The Temple was there.  Jesus would complete his personal ministry there in order to complete his task of salvation for humanity.

So,  most of the stops on the way to Jerusalem were quite likely opportunities for others to learn about “Christian” discipleship.  The Gospel for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 17:11-19) is quite likely one of these stops.  It begins with “As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem….”

As Jesus entered the village, he was met by ten lepers, who almost in unison cried out “Jesus Master, have pity on us.”  Jesus told them, according to Mosaic Law, “Go, present yourselves to the priests.”  On their way, they were cured.  Of the ten who were miraculously cured only ONE returned to give thanks to Jesus.  And the Gospel was quick to point out:  “He was a Samaritan.”

Why the ethnic distinction?  The Jews and the Samaritans were of different religions and were suspicious of one another. (Cf. Luke 9:51-56). Yet Samaritans played positive roles in Jesus’ discourse, for example the parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Luke 10:29-37)  It seems to me that when Jesus brings in an “outsider” who does the proper thing, the lesson is longer lasting.  Here the lesson is GRATITUDE.  Jesus sardonically asks the Samaritan,  “Ten were cleansed were they not?  Where are the other nine?”

What are we to learn from this Gospel reading? One of the things we can learn is how to pray.  The lepers approach Jesus and shout,  “Jesus, have mercy on us.”  They were asking for a healing.  This means that their prayer was one of PETITION.  Jesus heard their petition and cured them.

However, it was a healed Samaritan (the “outsider”) who returned and came to THANK Jesus for what he had done.  Somewhat ironically Jesus in reply points out, “Were not ten made clean?  Where are the missing nine?  Has it been only this outsider to come back and thank me for the gift of healing?”

It seems to me that saying “Thank you” in prayer is more important than saying, “Please give me this or that.”  Gratitude appears to be a bit more important than petition because gratitude actually makes us more dependent on the Lord than we thought.  If there is no gratitude, there can hardly be a successful petition.

At the end, Jesus told the Samaritan (the outsider), “Your faith has saved you.”  The Samaritan believed in the power of Jesus.  So much so that he returned, soon after realizing that he had received a blessing.  May we, as “outsiders” (sinners) thank God for all of our blessings, great or small, so that that we can be as one in many who return to Jesus to say “thank you.”  Our faith in the power of Jesus tells us that it is true.

 

 

Sometimes, watching the news on TV can be a little disheartening.  Not too long ago, I saw a large number of people lined up in front of a grocery store in Caracas, Venezuela.  As it turned out, there was nothing in the store for them to buy.  One lady being interviewed said, “I have only one egg, which I have to share with my dog.”

Then we have the situation in the United States.  We often go from store to store to do grocery shopping comparing prices and buying what we want.  We have a relatively delicious meal, and more often than not we tend to throw away the uneaten food.  We have just noted in the illustration of the United States and Venezuela an example of the “Haves” and the “Have nots.”

In the Gospel for the twenty sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 16:19-31) we see Jesus utilizing a parable of the “Haves” and the “Have nots.”  A rich man dressed in fancy clothes who dined sumptuously (“Have”), and a very poor man named Lazarus who wasn’t allowed to eat the scraps from the rich man’s table (“Have nots”).  Apparently, the rich man noticed Lazarus, but ignored him completely.

Then, both men died. The rich man went to the netherworld and was tormented, while Lazarus was taken by angels to the bosom of Abraham.  Here we have the “reversal of fortune” concept.  In this life the rich man had “good,” while Lazarus had “bad.”  In the next life, Lazarus had “good” while the rich man had “bad.”  What does this mean?

In this “reversal of fortune” theme, the rich man asks Abraham if he could send Lazarus down with some water to cool his tongue because he was suffering via the flames.  Abraham replied,  “Remember that in life you received the good, while Lazarus received the bad.  But now, in the after life,  he is comforted here while you are tormented.”

Then, in an attempt to have some success in the encounter with Abraham, the rich man pleads, “Then send Lazarus to my father’s house where I have five brothers who should be warned about what happened to me.”  He hoped that his brothers might be affected if the ghost of a dead man gave them advise. But the request was in vain.  Why?  Because if the brothers did not pay attention to the comments of Moses and the prophets, what good would the words of a “ghost” do?  The Law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets focused on the need to help one another. The rich man had it good  in this life but bad in the next life.  Lazarus had it bad in this life, but good in the next life.

What was the real source of the problem?  It was a matter of CHOICE.  In this life, the rich man was aware of Lazarus’ condition but chose not to give him food. In the next life the rich man asked for Lazarus to give him water to slate his thirst, but was refused.  Choices made in this life often affect your outcome in the next life.

What lessons can we learn from this Gospel message?  First of all, be aware that we are constantly making decisions.  For example, I see someone suffering, do I choose to do anything to help?  Is it easy for for me to ignore the poor, the sick, the helpless, and the troubled in this life?  Remember, the choices that I make in this life will definitely affect me in the next life.

Second, the Scriptures can easily tell me why and who are those in need who need my help.  I should become familiar with the Bible.  Those who choose to help others in need are the “Haves.”  Those who choose not to be bothered by others in personal need are the “Have nots.”  Where am I along that spectrum?

What goes up must come down.

Legend has it that one day Isaac Newton (17th and 18th cent.) was sitting under a tree when an apple fell on his head.  (I suspect that over the years the legend changed a bit here and there.)  Newton was the kind of fellow who often asked questions about many things.  So…he started to think about gravity.

One of the things about gravity was its conceptual use as a metaphor for the phrase “things that go up must come down.”  This notion fits in well with the basic lesson in the Gospel for the twenty second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 1, 7-14).  And that basic lesson is one of “humility.”

Jesus is invited to dinner.  Apparently, he appears to be very observant in noticing that many people seem to heading toward the “best” places at the table.  Not realizing, of course, that the host would more than likely place someone more important in that spot.  This could lead to severe embarrassment.  Jesus’ sage advise is: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted.”

What does this mean?  With this bit of wisdom, Jesus is speaking about being invited and doing the inviting.  Humility is important in both instances.  When you are invited to a meal, go to the lowest place at the table.  The host may put you at a more prestigious spot.  When you invite others to a party, don’t invite only those friends who will most likely return the gesture. Rather, invite those who can’t pay you back.  For example, the poor, the sick, the disabled.

In other words, from a moral perspective, what goes up (pride) must come down (humility.)  Humility can be a difficult or simplistic thing.  What is it anyway?  Simply put, humility is the telling of the truth.  You are who you are and it would be stupid to pretend that you are someone else.

If you have talents, accept them.  They are God given gifts in order to help you serve others.  No one has ever been cheated.  God may not have given all of us musical talent, but may well have given us something musicians can’t do. For instance,  listening intensively to others.  And that is how it goes.  Accept the truth as reality.

It is motivation, above all, that helps us deal with reality while reflecting on our own reasons for dealing with others.  Why do I want to do this or that?  In order to impress someone?  Or in order to do it because I can and I will.

Remember that we are all created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), which means we deal with others as who we are and not who we wish to be.  Handling that reality bespeaks humility.  If ever there was a good metaphor for this Gospel reading it is that of gravity.  What goes up (pride) must come down (humility).

 

 

 

 

Doesn’t it strike you as odd that Jesus said that he came NOT to bring peace but discord?  The image that comes to mind is the gentle pastoral scene when shepherds are in the field not far from the town of Bethlehem.

An angel appears in the sky and tells the shepherds that a child has been born in Bethlehem, a Savior who is the chosen Messiah.  Then a multitude of angels comes saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE among those whom he favors.”  (Luke 2:14).  So, from his birth Jesus is associated with bringing peace upon earth.

Then we have the subsequent account of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, a ritual obligation soon after the birth of the eldest son.  As Joseph and Mary entered the Temple, an elderly man, Simeon by name, took the child and then said to Mary, “…This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  (Luke 2: 34- 35)

Jesus was to bring peace.  Jesus was not to bring peace.  What is going on here?  And as if to fortify the latter option,  in the Gospel for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus states clearly while addressing his disciples, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51)

It seems to me that with the above statement, Jesus is very much aware of what will happen to him when he reaches Jerusalem.  He will suffer, die, and rise from the dead.  His “message” of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and service MUST be carried on by his disciples.  As was the case with Jesus so will the reality be for the disciples, namely, some will be unhappy with the message and react accordingly.

Jesus came to bring “peace” on earth.  Basically, it means the state of being OK with yourself and with others.  One of the principal reasons that Jesus lived his life and preached his message was that people would be OK with themselves and with others.  That was the basic principal of his life and message.  Being OK with others means being of service to them.

And since he knew he couldn’t do the job by himself, he had his disciples carry on his work.  They were supposed to bring “peace” on earth, namely, being OK with oneself and with others.  This involved bringing about justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  So, the task of continuing to promote the message of Jesus was left to his disciples.  Since the feast of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus carried on his work.  Now, it is up to us.

But what about the “peace or no peace” question?  We look at the Gospel of the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. (Luke 13:22-30)   Jesus is preaching about the Kingdom of God which sounds like a hard place to enter.  Someone asks Jesus, “Sir, will only a few people be saved?”  Jesus does not give a direct answer.  He uses the image of the “narrow door.”  Images are important in teaching.

The answer would depend upon our perception of the “narrow door” image.  Entry through the door would depend on the “master of the house” who is Jesus.  If you “know” him, you can enter.  If you don’t “know” him you can’t enter.

And what does it mean to “know” Jesus?  It means that we know him as a “friend” and not as an “acquaintance.”  In this Gospel context, “knowledge” means accepting Jesus as a person and sharing his ministry of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and service to others.

By such behavior as “friends” of Jesus we can bring peace on earth.  By acting as an “acquaintance” we really don’t know Jesus and consequently can’t act for him.  Friendship means power, power means active commitment, active commitment means fulfilling Jesus’ ministry on earth.  This way we can bring peace on earth.  By not knowing Jesus, there is little likelihood that peace can come on earth.  I suggest that we try to get to “know” Jesus much better.  Having peace in our time may depend on it.

 

 

The family choice

No matter how close family members have become with each other throughout their lives,  there is almost always a problem with one issue in particular, namely,  finances.  Most likely the problem often surfaces when the parents die.  Questions arise, for example,  such as when the siblings start asking how the family inheritance is to be divided “fairly.”

Is “A” going to get more than “B” because he was the only one who willingly paid off the family house loan?  And is “C” supposed to get more than the others since she, virtually alone, took of a sick mother?

The Gospel for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 12:13-21) appears to touch on these issues.  The day’s Gospel begins when someone asks Jesus to tell his own brother to share the family inheritance with him.

Jesus, in effect, says “no” signifying that it is not his business to interfere in family legal matters.  This task belongs more to a lawyer than to Jesus.  However, Jesus does get to the root of the problem by turning the legal issue into a probable moral issue by focusing on the “motivation” of the refusal.

He makes a very significant point, “Take care to guard against all greed… One’s life does not depend on possessions.”  It turns out that greed makes one focus more on the self than on others.  Quite likely, greed tends to obliterate the needs of others, so, consequently, one becomes selfish.

In effect, part of the lesson is that greed is the opposite of sharing.  Having wealth is not the problem.  The problem is “What do I do with it when I have it?”  Motivation becomes the key as to determining whether one’s wealth s good or bad.  How does one share one’s wealth? Good and generous behavior is an excellent  example of being wealthy.  To explain,  Jesus tells a parable.

A rich man had a plentiful harvest.  He decided that he would build bigger barns so that his food would last for years.  He was thinking of himself.  Then the rich man mumbled, “Now that I have enough food for quite a while, I’ll go out and party awhile.”  Selfish motivation.  Not sharing what he has.

Then the text tells us that the Lord said, “You fool.  Tonight you will die, then who will take over your harvest?”  One of the things that can present a stark contrast between greed and sharing is the probability of death.  No one knows  when the moment of death will occur–but it will occur.

Since a principal point in the Gospel is the startling contrast between greed and sharing, the question one asks is “With whom do I share?”  An excellent reference point is the final judgement scene in Matthew’s gospel  (Matthew 25:31-46).

The Righteous are told:  “I was hungry and you fed me.  I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.  I was naked and you clothed me.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was sick and you took care of me.”

The Righteous will ask, “Lord, when did we do this?”  And the Lord will say, “When you did this to the least members of my family, you did it to ME.”

How many people do we meet like this and then ignore them?  Don’t we believe that we are all created in God’s image and likeness? (Genesis 1:26-27)  If so, then that makes us all members of God’s family.

How do we stand regarding the “greed-share” dichotomy?  I would suggest that reflection as to how we deal with the above might likely give us an answer.  Motivation, death, and sharing will help us become more aware of our family.  Then it will be easier to make the choice of what to do with our possessions.

How do we know what is important in our lives?  We either allow things to affect us, and then decide which choice would be the least problematic.  OR, we choose what we will do, and that choice will generally guide the directions that we are likely to take.

What is it then?  ALLOW or CHOOSE?  The former basically passive, the latter basically active.  I would recommend “choice”  because that would mean having responsibility for the outcome from the beginning.

Let me explain.  We look at the Gospel for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, “the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37), and the Gospel for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, “Martha and Mary” (Luke 10:38-42).

In the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, both the priest and  levite, who work in the Temple, appeared to be so bound to their tasks that when they came across the wounded stranger on the road, they passed him by. This was their priority, their choice.

However, the Samaritan (no friend of the Jews), was on the same road, most likely on the way to do business.  But he noticed the injured man on the road and stopped to help him.  What was important to him was helping a needy person, pointing out that anyone in trouble (even a foreigner) was his neighbor.  What was important to the Samaritan at that moment was the injured person needing his help, and not his job.

In the Gospel about Martha and Mary, it is Martha who is “busy about many things” and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her prepare the meal.  Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him.  Then Jesus says something that strikes many as being rather odd.  “…Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:41-42)

What did Jesus mean by this?  What is the “better part” that Mary has chosen?  I strongly suspect that the answer lies in what the Gospel tells us Mary was doing.  She chose to listen to what Jesus was saying.  “Listening” is the better part of dialogue, because without listening there is always the danger of misunderstanding what is being told.

So, then Jesus meant that listening to him in order to understand his message, was better than worrying about keeping busy.  In the case of the “good Samaritan,” the priest and levite chose to maintain their business activities over the welfare of the wounded victim.  Whereas the Samaritan chose to help the wounded victim over his business ventures.  The choice that was made was what was what they considered important.  Busy things or helping needy people.

In the situation of Martha and Mary a similar thing happened.  Martha apparently chose keeping busy than listening to Jesus, which is what Mary was doing.  I don’t mean to infer that being hospitable is a bad thing.  Quite the opposite.  It seems to me that Jesus accepted the invitation for a meal to illustrate a much deeper point.  Namely, that people tend to be so busy that they don’t have time to listen to Jesus’s message.

What was Jesus’ message?  Promote justice, manifest compassion, be forgiving, help the powerless, and every gesture he performed in the Gospels toward others.  Apparently, it was not important to the priest and the levite, but it was to the Samaritan.  Unwittingly perhaps (force of habit?), Martha was too busy to listen, and Mary was not.

How can we “listen” to Jesus?  Ultimately, it will be a choice that we have to make.  Basically, it will be reading and reflecting on the Bible.  A sure sign of our “listening” is doing the things Jesus said for us to do: justice, compassion; forgiveness; understanding, and ultimately, seriously caring for out neighbor. If we do this, then we will have done what is truly important to us–and to others as well.

 

 

On the Road

Many of us do quite a bit of traveling.  Sometimes shopping, other times keeping medical appointments,  generally running errands.  We seem to be “on the road” quite a bit.

But it occurred to me recently that we are on another kind of “journey,” a spiritual journey.  Interestingly enough, in the Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the evangelist Luke (Luke 9:51-62) has Jesus (quite likely from Galilee) “journeying” to Jerusalem.  Curiously enough, Luke tells us that Jesus began his trek toward Jerusalem “with absolute determination.”

Why did Luke think that that motivation was necessary?  Because Jerusalem was considered a city of destiny.  It was the capital of the country.  The famous Temple was there, considered the dwelling place of the Lord.  Jerusalem was a place where big business was transacted.

For Jesus, Jerusalem was also a city of destiny.  It was there that Jesus was to suffer, die, and resurrect from the death, thereby completing his ministry on earth. It was near there that he commissioned his disciples to carry on this work and then returned to heaven from which he came.  The Advent/Christmas seasons remind us that Jesus was God made man (the union of the divine and the human).  It was a journey from  heaven to earth and back to heaven again.

Why was that journey for Jesus so significant?  In the early stages of the trip Jesus passed through a little town in Samaria which did not welcome him at all.  A guess was that the people were familiar with his work and did not appreciate it for whatever reason.  This public dislike was a reminder that some people were not appreciative of Jesus’ ministry.  Here Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was met with hostility.

Another curious thing about the journey, was that three individuals felt that they could be disciples of Jesus, sight unseen.  The first individual was quite immediate in his desire to be a disciple.  But Jesus wanted to make sure that  his disciples were aware that suffering and rejection were part and parcel of Christian discipleship.  It was not an easy choice to be his disciple.

The second individual was invited by Jesus himself to be a disciple, but the response was in the “yes, but…” category.  That is to say that the potential disciple was not ready to accept the personal invitation of Jesus.  He had other things to do beforehand.

The third potential disciple had both a spontaneity and a multiple series of tasks before saying “yes” to Christian discipleship.  Jesus straightened him out by stating the equivalent of “now or never.”  The choice was to accept the invitation when personally invited by Jesus.

What can we learn from today’s Gospel?  The first thing we learn is that our whole life is a “journey,” as we attempt to proclaim Jesus’ ministry to others, that of justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.  That is to say that whatever we say and do is an example–and we are judged according to our gestures.

We must also be aware that there are people who will challenge us not only for our actions, but also for our motivations.  Suffering is part of Christian discipleship.

The second thing we can learn from today’s Gospel is that though we have taken on the responsibility of service to others because of our Baptism, we must be aware that true Christian discipleship involves suffering.  And when Jesus offers us his call to follow him, preaching/living out his ministry takes prior importance.

In fact, a periodic prayer for us could be:  “O Lord, help me review constantly what it takes to be one of your effective disciples.  Only then will I know that I am definitely on the road to ‘Jerusalem,’ the symbolic place where I come in touch with my commissioning as effective disciple.”

Power points

One of the curious things about the feast of Pentecost is that it becomes a midpoint in the church’s liturgical year.  What does that mean?  Well, the church’s liturgical year is an annual celebration of Jesus’ ministry on earth and of his commissioning his disciples to continue his work.  And the time of Pentecost is generally considered  the time between the living/teaching of Jesus and the disciples continuing the task after Jesus’ Ascension.  Hence, the midpoint.

Think of it this way. The liturgical year is often portrayed as a circle reflecting the annual repetition of the feasts celebrating Jesus life and ministry.

The liturgical year begins with the seasons of Advent and Christmas.  The dominating belief is that God becomes human in the person of Jesus.  Advent means “coming,” so there is that expectation of his arrival.  There is often the reminder of the coming of “Immanuel” which in Hebrew means “God with us.” This “coming”is the initial vertical part of the circle.  The arrival takes place during the Christmas season.  Humility and poverty are two of the lessons offered.  This Advent/Christmas period represents the first part of the circle, namely, the presence of Immanuel (“God with us”).  Jesus (God made man) is expected and he comes, born in Bethlehem of Judea.  The expression of the “Immanuel” promise.

The second part of the liturgical year circle is the first horizontal part, namely. the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This is celebrated during the Lenten/Easter seasons.  The life/teachings of Jesus provoked reactions which resulted in his suffering, death, and resurrection.  Because of what Jesus required of his disciples, a choice was necessary.  To wit:  Sincerely believe in his life/teachings–or not.  If one were to be a true disciple, one accepted the challenges of discipleship which included the hardships.  This meant that the true disciple had to proclaim the totality of Jesus’ “message” to others.

The third part of the liturgical year circle is the commissioning of the disciples, followed by Jesus’ ascension to heaven.  This is symbolized by the upward ascension of Jesus returning back from where he had originally descended.  The commissioning basically was that the disciples were to proclaim the Jesus life/teaching message to others.  But, with this emphasis.  That the disciples would be empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to give them courage and fortitude to carry on the challenge of discipleship.  This symbolizes the third part of the circle, the direction upward.

The fourth part of the liturgical year cycle is the season called Ordinary Time,  the time in which all the committed disciples of Jesus carry on the ministry of effectively proclaiming Jesus’ life and message.  The actual question is “…for how long will be the reception of the Holy Spirit continue the Jesus ministry?”  Since the answer to the question is “…until the end of time” Ordinary Time continues until the liturgical cycle begins anew.

It seems to me that, given these circumstances,  the feast of Pentecost, which celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to some disciples, becomes very crucial here.  Why is that so?  I will tell you why by focusing on two questions:  What is the Holy Spirit? and How can I benefit from receiving the Holy Spirit?

What is the Holy Spirit?  After some serious reflection, I decided that a good translation of Holy Spirit would be “the creative power of God.” Rather than struggling through a doctrinal dissertation on the Trinity, it seemed better that some biblical citations would be helpful.  When we read the Genesis account of creation, we note that “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind  (Hebrew: RUAH) from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2)

Then God spoke “”Let there be…” and there was.  “A coming to be…..” from the creative breath of God.  So when we see the Holy Spirit in the Gospels, we de facto see the “creative power of God” in action.

How can I benefit from the Holy Spirit?  My first official reception of the Holy Spirit was at my Baptism.  Afterwards, I made free choices regarding my  relationship with others.  If I followed my instincts, based on my proper ethical training, I was following the Holy Spirit.  Jesus tells us what he told his disciples when he commissioned them.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you….Receive the Holy Spirit.”  (John 20:21-23)

Each instinctual decision, based on Jesus’ moral principals, make my choices expressions of the creative power of God.  Or, differently put, they become power points for me.

 

 

 

Gone fishing?

Some sports are basically functional and used primarily for exercise,  such as golf or tennis.  Other “sports,” such as fishing and hunting, ultimately have as their primary purpose,  food to eat. During the New Testament period, fishing was above all a source of food and not a sport.

We notice that in the Gospel reading for the third Sunday of Easter (John 21:1-14) “fish” becomes the dominant image to proclaim, what seems to me, an important theme in the Gospel, namely, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples in this post-resurrection appearance.

As background we must first understand what “revelation” means.  The word comes from the Latin which indicates “pulling back the veil.”  An example of this would come from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the cowardly lion, the frightened scarecrow, and the tin man were in the wizard’s house.  A loud, threatening,  and dominating voice from behind a veil  frightened the group.  When the veil was pulled back, the loud and threatening voice was that of a gentle person.  Pulling back the veil provided the revelation.

It appears that in the above Gospel there are two sub-themes as to how the revelation took place:  Fishing and the Eating experience.  Many of the disciples were fishermen, so when Jesus was choosing some of his disciples he told them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.”  (Mark 1:17.  Cf.  also Matthew 4:19 and Luke 5:10)  Undoubtedly, in this post-resurrection period,  some disciples recalled that phrase more strongly.

What emphasized the past-present relationship was that the disciples were unable to catch fish.  And when the voice from the shore told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat they did so.   The catch was great.  Quite likely this miraculous multiplication of fish reminded the disciples of the multiplication of fish and bread in the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14: 13-21)  The disciples recognized the voice on the shore to be that of the post-resurrection Jesus, who had earlier brought about the miraculous multiplication of fish.

The second sub-theme is the eating experience.  When the disciples landed, they saw a charcoal fire with fish and bread on it.  Jesus invited them to breakfast.  They came, and the text tells us that “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” (John 21:13)  This comment of Jesus was most likely reminiscent of the Last Supper where Jesus took the food and passed it on to the others.  That is to say that Jesus himself was providing nourishment to his disciples with nourishing food.

What can we make of this?  First of all, it was the miraculous multiplication of fish reminding the disciples of the miraculous multiplication of fish and bread that fed the five thousand that gave the clue that the voice on the shore belonged to the pre-resurrection Jesus.  Secondly, when Jesus invited the disciple to breakfast and personally gave them the food, most likely it reminded them of the Last Supper when Jesus fed the disciples by giving them nourishing food to eat.

For us, this Gospel reading could remind us of both of the Eucharist (where Jesus continues to feed us thus nourishing us) and of the significance of our Baptism (where we have all received the obligation to give good example to others.)  Both the Eucharist and Baptism will help us take into account what Jesus told Peter and Andrew:  “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” (Matthew 4:19)  Now we remind ourselves that it is time to “go fishing.”

 

 

 

 

Caught in the act

Pope Francis, curiously enough, chose this year to be a “year of mercy” (2016).  Given the fact that there is so much trouble around the world would most likely explain why.

But what does having “mercy” actually mean?  Forgiving culpably guilty people who remain unrepentant?  Not likely.  I suspect that the concept of “mercy” is more like that of “compassion.”  “Compassion” comes from the Latin which means “to suffer with…”  That is to say that you somehow feel the pain of the other, and, given the proper motivation, are willing to help.  It would boil down to this:  Hate the sin, but love the sinner.

One classic example of this notion can be found in the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (John 8:1-11), the woman taken in adultery.  Simply put, some Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery over to Jesus in order for him to make a judgement.  Jesus was becoming quite popular and this caused concern to many of the Scribes and Pharisees.

This “judgement” was obviously a test to see whether Jesus would agree with the Mosaic Law or not.  The law demanded stoning.  Would Jesus say “yes” (according to the Law) or “no,” a sign of his compassion, which would mean opposition to the letter of the Law.

In truth, Jesus showed “mercy.”  That is, hated the sin but loved the sinner.  For example, the Scribes and Pharisees asked the pointed question that had to do with the letter of the Mosaic Law which demanded that a woman caught in adultery be stoned to death.  They asked Jesus, “What do you say?”

After a few lengthy pauses, while doodling on the ground, Jesus ignored the question and focused on the motivation of the question and ultimately retorted: “He among you who is without sin,  let him cast the first stone.”

I strongly suspect that that group of Scribes and Pharisees knew each other very well, and most likely each of the individuals participated in any skulduggery about which the others knew.  So…they remained silent, and gradually slunk away.

Jesus then turned to the woman and said: “Has no one stayed to condemn you?”  She replied, “No one.”  Then Jesus answered, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Note clearly what takes place here.  Jesus recognized that sin had taken place (John 8:11) but told her to sin no more.  What does this mean?  Above all, I think  that Jesus wanted all of us to distinguish between the letter of the Law and the spirit of the Law.  We have the case of Jesus and his disciples crossing grainfields-on the Sabbath.  The disciples were hungry, so they plucked the grain.  This, of course, made the Pharisees unhappy because the Sabbath had been “violated.”  So, Jesus commented, “…The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.”  (Mark 2:27)  This was obviously a case regarding priorities.  Letter or spirit of the Law?.  [See similar example: Mark 3:1-6]

In the case of the woman taken in adultery, Jesus showed compassion, and thus mercy.  In the case of the disciples in the grainfields, Jesus made a distinction between the letter and the spirit of the Law, which also indicated mercy.  One of our lessons from this Gospel reading is to show mercy on ourselves and others by distinguishing the sin from the sinner and by establishing our priorities of whether the spirit or the letter of the Law is more important.

If ever we are in the situation of being caught in the act of, or of catching others about to be caught in the act of regarding the effects of temptation, it would be well to remember the above two points.

 

 

 

Finding What Was Lost

How would you react if one of your children tells you that he/she is bored at home and wants to go out and “experience” the world as the TV commercials have described it?  Say “yes,” “no,” or start a fight?  This potential experience could start a problem that would need a lasting solution.

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Luke 15:11-32) provides us with some reflection on how to deal with the issue.  Jesus is asked why on occasion he discusses and eats with sinners.  He responds by telling the parable frequently called “The Prodigal Son.”

The parable begins, “There was a man who had two sons….” then Jesus goes on to contrast between the “good” son and the “bad” son. He does so in three stages.  First, the contrast.  Second, the results.  Third, the solution.

First, the contrast.  The younger son (“bad”) takes the money from his inheritance, goes on a binge drinking, playing around with women, and further seeks to “enjoy” what the world has to offer.  The older son (“good”) stays at home, being obedient to the father, and helping out however he can.

Second, the results.  A  famine hits the land and the younger son is devastated.  Not only has the boy spent all of his money, but starvation is now a new experience for him.  So he hires himself out as a servant and is given the task of feeding animals.  Thinking to himself that things were much better at home, he decides to return and apologize to his father for what he had done. Because of his proper and supportive behavior at home, the elder son maintains the designation of the “good” son.

Third, a partial solution to the question of why Jesus consorts with sinners.  From a distance, the father sees his younger son returning home and is so excited.  He gives instructions to his servants that his younger son be dressed properly and that the fattened calf provide the basis for the following fiesta of welcome.

Meanwhile, the older brother suddenly realized what was happening, and railed against his father.  In effect,”All these years I have served you well yet you never gave me an animal to feast on with my friends.”  Despair in the air. Frustration and jealousy.  The father responds.  “My son, everything that I have is yours.  But now your brother has returned.  We must celebrate.”

What make this a solution?  Remember that this is a parable.  Quite likely, Jesus intends that God is the father and the central character in the parable.  What the father (God) is displaying is “merciful love.”  That is to say, that no matter how bad things are, God will forgive you in spite of your sinfulness.

The prophet Hosea helps us to understand this attitude.  (Hosea 14:1-9, especially verse 4 where YHWH says of sinful Israel, “I will love them freely…”)  What this passage points out is that religious logic ordinarily follows three stages:  SIN-CONVERSION-PARDON.  Hosea’s pattern is different:  SIN-PARDON-CONVERSION.

However, this does not mean that contrition/sorrow isn’t necessary, but it does mean that it comes about  as an ANSWER to God’s love and not as a precondition to pardon.  This is an example of God’s merciful love.  You are sorry for your sins because you believe that God loves you.

A key conclusion from this Gospel is that God is a merciful father.  No matter how sinful we become, God’s loving mercy will forgive us and that loving forgiveness elicits from us a sorrow.  The stronger our belief in that process, the greater will be the possibility of forgiveness.

Sinfulness makes us lost.  But in the final verse of today’s Gospel, the father tells his older son when speaking of the younger son can also be said of us.  “But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother (sister) was dead and has come to life again.  He/she was lost and has been found.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Mountains” have been a dominant image in much of literature.  For example, many sports enthusiasts want to climb “mount” Everest–mostly because it is there.  Or from a religious perspective, “mount” Sinai is important to the Jewish and Christian faiths–primarily because a crucial covenant between God and humanity was established there.

Why is the “mountain” so special?  I would say that the mountain images the meeting point between heaven and earth.  In the Scriptures, when a “mountain” appears in the narrative, there is likelihood that something special is going to happen.

Of the many possible examples, one comes to mind.  And that is the well known account of what is called the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5:1-7:29).  The text tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds “…he went up the mountain….” (Matt. 5:1)  and began to teach.  When he had finished, “…Jesus had come down from the mountain….” (Matt. 8:1)

What was his reason for going to the mountain?  Most likely he had something important to say.  And we find that reason in the biblical text itself.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17)

And that “fulfillment” was to make certain that sinfulness was to be considered not just externally in the deed itself, but also internally in the will.  Jesus illustrated this with the pattern of: “You have heard it said…but I say to you….”  In the Gospel for the Second Sunday in Lent (Lk. 9:28-36) we note that Jesus takes a few of his disciples with him up a mountain. Thus we know that something special is going to happen there.

And what is that something special?  It is what we generally call the “Transfiguration.”  That is to say that the figure of Jesus is transformed into something else.  The descriptive images of “light, white, cloud” were biblical images that described the presence of the divine.  Most likely, the disciples saw another aspect of Jesus.

Part of the vision showed Moses and Elijah standing on either side of Jesus.  Both are Old Testament characters.   Many commentators say that Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the Prophets.  The idea was that Jesus was to be considerd the proper interpreter of the Law and the Prophets.

But the most significant aspect of that vision was the cloud (another image representing the deity) and the voice which came from within.  The voice said “…This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” (Lk. 9:35)  The voice confirmed what the disciples had seen. ” Confirmation” of who Jesus is and “command” in how to deal with him were the key aspects of the message given to the disciples.

And what can we learn from this Gospel reading?  Various things, I’m certain.  But I would like to suggest a couple of items.  The first would be to “climb the mountain” to pray–as Jesus did.  However, the “mountain” that we can climb could be the challenges we receive from temptations.  As in Lent, so throughout the year, we face many “mountains” (temptations.)  It would be important to choose one that we find especially bothersome.  Lent can be our focus time to “climb” (overcome) that mountain (temptation).

The second thing we can learn from the Gospel reading is to realize that the “voice” from the cloud is speaking directly to us.  We also need that confirmation that Jesus is the Son of God, and take seriously the command to  listen to Jesus, especially through the Scriptures.

Consequently, through encountering and successfully climbing our “mountain” (temptation) and “listening” to Jesus through Scripture, we could experience a good Lenten season which would mean that by Easter we would have successfully arrived on the other side of the mountain which would most likely be our “transfiguration” into new people.

 

 

 

Seeing people walk around with big black marks on their forehead makes you wonder if they belong to some kind of a cult.  However, for those in the know realize that sometime around mid February is the time of the year that this  occasion usually happens.  We call the experience Ash Wednesday because the season of Lent begins on that day.

Why ashes?  For many years ashes have been used as a symbol of penitence. There are many descriptive biblical examples of this.  Thus Ash Wednesday puts us in the framework of a penitential season which is what we call Lent, the preparation for Easter, celebrating the resurrection of the dead Jesus.

When the person receives the ashes placed on the forehead for all to see, the minister often says, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Thus proclaiming two of most important themes of Lent: Repentance and the Bible.

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent (Luke 4:1-13)  depicts for us how Jesus dealt with repentance and the Bible so that we could be more specific during Lent in emulation of the two themes.

First of all, there is the issue of repentance.  If one were to reflect on the topic, one could see that the need for repentance depends on how we react toward temptation.  Simply put, temptation is not a sin, but an opportunity to commit sin.  Thus, it is the “decision” that makes the action sinful or not.  The choice is to say “yes” or “no” to the temptation.

The opening lines of the day’s Gospel clearly state, as Jesus is about to enter the desert, “Filled with the Holy Spirit…”  That is to say that having the Holy Spirit (the creative power of God) gives one energy and motivation to deal with temptation.  It seemed important enough for Luke to have mentioned it.

Secondly, Jesus deals with the devil’s temptation by citing biblical passages.  Almost always there has been a belief that the Bible reflects God’s word, and dwelling on the Bible provides providential background  to challenge the temptation–as it did for Jesus.  In other words, strengthened by the presence of the Holy Spirit and displaying a good biblical sense, Jesus successfully overcame temptation.

Now we may ask: What can we learn from the day’s Gospel?  Well, many things.  But I offer three suggestion.  First, it should be that we have an understanding of what “temptation” is.  It is not a sin in itself, but rather an opportunity to commit sin.  The opportunity is facilitated by the decision making process.  Do I decide to say “yes” or “no” to the temptation?  If I say “yes” to the temptation, then I have committed sin and must do penance.

Second, when we are baptized we receive the Holy Spirit who gives us the strength and courage to say “no” to temptation.  Second, the Bible, as Word of God, should become part and parcel of our defense system against temptation.  Part of that defense system includes listening well to the readings at Mass, to join Bible study groups, and, guided personal Bible study.

Consciously aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us since our Baptism, together with a biblical sense of interpreting God’s Word among us makes it more than probable that we can honestly say to the devil, “Lead us not into temptation.”  Even if he does, we can still say “no” to the temptation itself.

 

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